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Open dialogue must be promoted

By Dr. Jacob Klimstra

For four weeks in a row, I attended power sector-focused conferences and external meetings as a delegate, moderator, speaker, teacher and journalist. I did not count the words spoken at those meetings, but it might have been close to half a million. It is impossible to remember all of those words and even more difficult to recall the main messages of the speakers. Ultimately, one can get very tired of all the listening and talking. That’s why my wife and I love Saturday nights when we can relax in front of the television. We are currently watching the BBC series ‘The White Queen’, in which the Royal Houses of Lancaster, York and Tudor fight each other for the English throne. It is amazing how insecure a person’s fate was in those days. The sword and intrigue ruled rather than fair legislation.

Yet one wonders how different today’s situation really is. Kings and queens no longer have significant power, but in many countries volatile policies seem to offer insufficient security to invest in a proper sustainable electricity generation portfolio. A reliable and affordable electricity supply is crucial for any country’s economic growth.

Government ministers and high-ranking civil servants are often invited to give an Opening Address or a Keynote Speech at conferences. We listen eagerly and politely, and make notes of their messages. Immediately after the applause, most of them leave again and the ‘real’ meeting starts. They don’t stay and listen to the presentations of the real stakeholders in the sector.

In hindsight, this is very strange. It seems sometimes that the only way we can achieve an optimum power supply system is via lobbying and back-room policies. Or maybe we just prefer the situation that might present opportunities to promote a certain product. It might also be that our conferences offer insufficient value for policymakers and that we only end-up preaching to the converted.

Fortunately, I recently had a couple of very positive experiences. The US Department of Energy (DOE) appears to have real experts on energy matters who listen, respond and understand. A group of independent specialists was invited by the US DOE to discuss how to ensure a reliable and sustainable electricity supply. The benefits of cogeneration and distributed generation were also highlighted. An open dialogue and the ability to learn and teach each other gave a basis for a long-term vision on energy matters.

The other positive experience was a meeting with an energetic Member of Parliament in the UK. A business associate, who I regularly meet at the advisory board of the POWER-GEN conferences, kindly arranged a meeting with this MP. We discussed the issues around power supply, and ultimately the MP invited us to establish a knowledge exchange seminar for politicians and civil servants. This is how it should be in a modern and democratic society.

Still, in many countries legislation is prepared and changed without consulting the relevant sector. Rules, taxes, levies and subsidies can change in a blink of an eye, like in the days of old with the fighting kings. This is not how it should be. Most readers of this magazine are experts in the field of energy. I invite you to use your skills in teaching the world about the issues at stake. This magazine will gladly help you as a medium to convey the message.

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