Chris Jenkins, Managing Director, Zing Energy, explains why Wales needs to be at the forefront of advancements in green technology
Wales had a defining role in the first Industrial revolution. Through the development of coal, iron ore, copper and slate, Wales became a global powerhouse, enabling the nation to evolve from a pre-industrial rural economy to a modern country. It also defined the modern population and where they live today. New towns and villages sprung up, stretching all the way along the coal field attracting workers from rural areas. Despite this, the past remains a bittersweet memory for many. The Deindustrialisation of the 80s saw the economic base ripped out. This has left Wales with a legacy of unemployment and relative underperformance ever since which has led to enduring fuel poverty for many. The impact of COVID has only worsened this.
Matching words with action
We now stand on the brink of something truly exciting. Renewable energy offers the chance for Wales to lead a new clean green industrial revolution. With the right conditions now in place we need the right will from Government to empower businesses and communities to make this happen and ensure more affordable and greener energy is available for all.
The UK Government has committed to a 68% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. It has also promised to level up the whole of the United Kingdom. However in reality its actions don’t match the words. While homeowners throughout England are seeing the benefit of the recently introduced Green Home Grant, Wales hasn’t been not included and this simply isn’t right.
The £2billion Green Homes Grant is for landlords, homeowners and low income households to improve the energy-efficiency of their homes. It’s an understatement to say it’s been a boom for the industry and for us as an energy efficiency firm. At Zing Energy we have tripled our staff numbers to cope with the demand, creating quality jobs in Wales. Yet, presently our work is only benefiting homeowners in England. This needs to be rectified straightaway and we urge both the UK and Welsh Governments to ensure the scheme is moved West. It is particularly pressing, given around 29% of Welsh houses are of solid wall construction, with 21% off the gas grid and 12% in fuel poverty, meaning they would be able to benefit enormously from the scheme. For a Government that talks about ‘levelling up’ the whole of the UK this seems like a big omission.
A multi-year commitment
It is a scandal that many homes in Wales still lack any central heating or are powered by some of the most carbon-intensive energy forms. At the most basic level properly insulating the homes of millions of people, we can ensure people save money on their bills and reduce CO2 emissions. After all, people on lower incomes pay a disproportionately high amount of their income on energy.
Additionally generous though this scheme is, it is a drop in the ocean compared to countries like Germany in terms of truly embracing green energy. For businesses like ours who help facilitate access to Government energy grants, we would encourage the Government to offer a multi-year commitment, as the danger is the funding could be suddenly pulled (as happened previously with solar pv). With a multi-year commitment we can offer guaranteed jobs in the industry and also ensure the country can be on track to reach zero emissions.
Welsh councils can tackle fuel poverty and support firms
As well as the national governments needing to act, it also up to Welsh councils and local authorities to ensure those in fuel poverty can benefit from existing Government schemes such as Local Authority Flex. This is the extension of the UK government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. It means many of those on benefits and low incomes can receive free installation of more energy efficient measures, paid for by the energy companies. We believe thousands of households could be missing out as not enough councils are enacting the scheme. We urge councils to engage with energy suppliers to identify households that would benefit from these improvements. Again this would lead to employment and opportunities for Welsh companies as well as benefiting those on low incomes.
Boosting solar and wind power
The take up of solar panels across Wales has sadly fallen as a result of the government scrapping the feed in tariff. This meant that for solar panel owners got paid directly back for all the energy they created. This was a huge incentive to get these panels installed. This should be swiftly reviewed and re-introduced. Wales could lead the world in the provision of solar homes relying on an energy source that won’t run out for several billion years. Thousands of jobs were lost at the stroke of a pen when this scheme was abandoned.
Encourage green entrepreneurs
Underpinning all these initiatives is the ongoing impact of startups introducing new and exciting ways to further innovation in renewable energy. From AI in smart meters to new techniques to light and power homes, to new forms of green energy. Further moves could and should be made to encourage the next generation of green entrepreneurs. This could include generous R&D tax relief for green business models or more tax incentives for investors to back these businesses. In the same way Welsh inventors powered the development of the first industrial revolution, it would encourage a new generation of home grown entrepreneurs coming up with new solutions.
The right incentives need to be in place to make this happen. Just as the original Industrial Revolution created jobs and national pride, so a genuine focus on green energy in Wales can help to transform the country. This would create employment, lower energy bills lifting people out of fuel poverty and new innovation to help safeguard the future of the planet. What a proud legacy that would be.