posted by Maddy Carroll

Explainer:
the plan for our power supply

The Energy Bill is the government's 20-year plan for Britain's energy system, and everyone agrees that it's a Big Deal. But what does it actually say?

 

The government's Energy Bill (as in a new law concerning energy, not the envelope from the power company that thwacks onto your doormat every quarter) is the biggest shake up of the UK's energy system for decades.

Most people don’t think too much about where their energy comes from – you just flick a switch and it’s there. But what happens behind the plug matters – a good energy system gives us reliable, affordable power that doesn't mess up the climate. A bad energy system does the opposite of all those things.
 
We've come a long way in the last few years, but we're still towards the bad end of the spectrum, and the Energy Bill – currently in draft form – is the government's plan to fix it.

Where we are now

Our electricity comes from a range of different sources: coal, gas, nuclear and renewables like wind, solar and hydro power. These all feed electricity into the network of power lines, and substations that deliver it to our homes and businesses. When people talk about 'the grid', that's what they mean.
 
Burning fossil fuels like coal and gas produces climate-changing CO2, which means that every unit of electricity has its own carbon footprint – sometimes called the 'carbon intensity' of the grid. Electricity that mostly comes from fossil fuels, has a large footprint. Replace the fossil fuels with renewables and it gets smaller – simple!
 
The bad news is that our grid's carbon footprint is pretty big  – over 500g per unit. The good news is that lots of the dirty power stations responsible for this are coming to the end of their lives and need replacing, and that's a chance to replace them with something much better.
 
But this won't happen by itself. It all comes down to the decisions ministers make about the details of the Energy Bill, which is why we're getting all excited about it.

Where we want to be

If the government gets it right, the Energy Bill is a fantastic opportunity to get Britain on the road to meeting our carbon targets while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean technology.

In its current version however, the Bill has a few shortcomings, which we need to be addressed now. Following the environmental select committee's report which analysed the bill in detail, climate minister Ed Davey and his colleagues will now be preparing a final draft to take to parliament in winter. 

The Bill deals with a whole wealth of issues related to our energy market. But we've picked out three particular ones we think 10:10ers can support to give us a better, low carbon future: 

1. A decarbonised electricity mix 

The ideal would be a decarbonised electricity system, made up of a mix of renewable, low carbon sources where a unit's footprint isn't 500g but 50g of CO2 by 2030 at the very latest. The Bill is currently a bit vague and leaves room for error by aiming to be largely decarbonised by the 2030s rather than committing firmly to this goal (see Draft Energy Bill, page 10). We need to make sure it's de-vagueified into a clear target for a 50 gram grid.

2. People power 

In past years, the 10:10 community has shown that everyone can cut carbon! Many more people and businesses would follow suit if government provided better help and support to do so. We'd like the bill to focus on this opportunity by putting in place systems and regulations that support society in gradually decarbonising at every level.

3. Community owned energy 

Currently our electricity system is largely owned by big players, but community owned energy is on the rise thanks to incentive schemes such as the Feed-in-Tariff and relaxing the planning requirements for small scale solar installations.

10:10's Solar Schools are just some of the beneficiaries of these schemes. And while the Energy Bill aims to encourage schemes where local people benefit from the power produced, it also features a range of stumbling blocks which mean that systems meant to encourage new renewables will clearly benefit big players over smaller ones ("It will become a "big boys' game" that will not work for "little people"). That's why we want the bill to remove some of the hurdles faced by communities and actively support community-owned energy projects.