Theresa May — new political energy, new energy opportunities.


Can Theresa May show the commitment needed in energy efficiency for our economic and environmental benefits? Fraser Wallace, Policy Advisor at the Sustainable Energy Association, gives thought to the question

Out of the political turmoil following the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote, there is a new, focused energy in British politics. Those of us in the energy industry will be of course be watching with great interest to see where this new dynamism takes the sector. There are new opportunities and threats ahead.

The Conservative leadership contest – suddenly cut short –   saw the emergence of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister. She has been energetic and decisive from the start. Ministerial careers like that of George Osborne, the former Chancellor, nurtured carefully through the Cameron era, have suddenly ended.

The new guard is in.

Theresa May has been described as a ‘one nation’ Conservative. This is a term originally associated with Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, (1868 & 1874-1880), who commented on the problem of Britain operating as two nations – rich and poor- separated by circumstance, though occupying the same space. One Nation Conservatism argues society is interlinked through a wide variety of mutualistic obligations.

This political philosophy is the reason that Theresa May’s single leadership campaign speech (the competition to become Conservative leader was so short no more were required) in Birmingham majored on creating ‘a Britain that works for everyone.’ May stated it was important that ‘everyone can share in the country’s wealth.’ Some outline policies aimed at moving the country in this direction were cited including Treasury-backed project bonds for new infrastructure projects and an industrial strategy to kick-start the economy.

Specifically concerning energy, May stated her desire to see costs to users reduced. This is one juncture where May’s One Nation philosophy connects with her initial policy proposals. It is also an opportunity for May to emphasise the clear water between her new government and its approach to the economy and social issues and the departed Osborne’s focus on deficit reduction above all else.

The economic benefits of energy efficiency are well known. Verco and Cambridge Econometric’s 2014 report stated that the macroeconomic growth benefits of an energy efficiency delivery programme could equate to £3.20 in increased GDP per £1 invested. A whole house approach tackling both the heating systems warming UK buildings and the insulating fabric preventing energy waste through roofs and walls will deliver the maximum returns.  Regarding improving health outcomes, these returns include a saving of £0.42 to the NHS in reduced hospital admissions and GP visits for every £1 invested in energy efficiency according to the Chief Medical Officer (2009 report). Improved energy use could make the country healthier, and wealthier. Efficiency represents a truly one-nation strategy.

The threat to the energy efficiency and renewable heating industry is that the many urgent priorities for the new UK Government will push policy development affecting this sector to the back of ministerial minds. The economic opportunity presented by energy efficiency remains, however, and it might just be that the new government’s social sensibilities are more sympathetic to spending money on efficiency-based infrastructure projects. It is up to the sustainable energy industry to continue making the case.

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