Tim Rotheray

Director of the Association for Decentralised Energy, Dr Tim Rotheray, says the UK government needs to move away from a ‘silo approach’ to policymaking in the energy sector, if the country is to have a successful and balanced energy system.

Responding to a report in the Daily Telegraph, he told Decentralized Energy he understood the rationale for having diesel generators in hospitals but also pointed to the phenomenon as evidence of less than perfect energy policy.

The Telegraph article had focused on Policy Exchange’s report on the “highly questionable” drive by the National Grid’s to encourage hospitals to help keep the UK’s lights on by using their back-up diesel generators.
Dr Tim Rotheray of Association fro Decentralised Energy
The think tank warned of the air pollution threat to patients that could result. The energy utility is encouraging NHS sites to sign up for schemes where they will be paid to use their back-up generators for electricity routinely, not just in the event of an emergency power cut.

Dr Rotheray says the sentiment in the article made sense but the reality is more complex and indicative of a wider problem with how energy policy manifests itself in the UK.

“The overarching comment I would have is that I think the issue highlights a much bigger issue in energy policy which is that different silos exist between carbon emissions, security of supply and affordability.”

“You have National Grid who say we must be technology agnostic when it comes to security of supply, so there is no interest at all in the carbon or air quality emissions of the equipment they procure. Then you have Contracts for Difference, which again has no concern at all for the security of supply impact created by procuring more renewables.  Some of the security of supply impact is positive and some negative.”

The ADE chief says diesel generator back-up in hospitals is not necessarily a bad thing, unless running more than they otherwise should. Complete opposition to the equipment is an unhelpful stance, he said.

“Saying we should simply stop backup diesel generators period is a very simplistic response to a complex question. That is disappointing because that kind of media response can lead to certain unfortunate kneejerk policy reactions which may not be well considered.”

Ministers are currently considering how to curb the growth in diesel generators, dozens of which are being built around the UK after becoming the unintended beneficiaries of the Government’s “capacity market” subsidy scheme, which procures power plant capacity.

The environment department is considering new emissions regulations to target diesel, which are also likely to affect existing generators.

More joined up thinking across all  energy authorities in the UK, whether National Grid, Ofgem or the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy might see a better functioning system, according to Rotheray.

“If these silos were removed between security emissions and costs we would probably see more rational answers come forward in terms of what gets procured and what doesn’t.”

“I would suggest that it should be technology agnostic within the framework of what we are trying to achieve. The problem with National Grid is they are technology agnostic purely in terms of security of supply so anything that provides security is acceptable whereas anything that provides security at an appropriate level of carbon emissions is what should be acceptable.”

“The agnostic approach is right but it needs to consider all the necessary variables that go into the energy policy we are trying to achieve – otherwise they conflict with each other – that is what we are seeing in that whole debate over diesel and capacity market and so forth. The government has this policy and is then unhappy that it is procuring diesel.”

The approach has led to silos, with teams created within the department, and results that aren’t ideal in terms of a balanced energy policy.

“It isn’t easy to avoid silos but I do think there is a greater awareness of it and the creation of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is a helpful move and could be a very positive way of bringing through the opportunity for industrial energy efficiency into the wider energy debate which has to date been a very low priority.”

“There is a great opportunity for greater non-silo thinking – the position we have always had and the transition we believe needs to happen is that policy making needs to shift from system led to user led.”

The logic is that the place where no silos exist at all is at user level. The energy user needs computing, lighting, mobility and heat but is not concerned in how the system delivers them.

“If we were to have an approach where we have a user led policy-making process, that is to say the policy designed at the outset to work for an energy user, then you allow the energy user to break down the silos because they do not need the silos and in that way you may be able to move away from the current problem.”