Jeremy Leggett: caught between low carbon and high-voltage rows  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Guardian has an article on Jeremey Leggett and the debate in the UK about the value of solar PV - Jeremy Leggett: caught between low carbon and high-voltage rows.

A tiny doorway next to a BetFair shop in south London is the unassuming headquarters of Solarcentury, a company that arguably stands to gain most on 1 April when the feed-in tariff – or "great green rip-off" as some call it – comes into force.

The company, or at least its founder, is at the heart of the next phase of Britain's low-carbon revolution by encouraging homeowners to fix panels on their roofs to generate renewable energy.

But while executive chairman Jeremy Leggett should have been devoting 24 hours a day preparing for the busiest period of his commercial life, he has been forced to spend some of his time fighting off an unexpected assault by environmentalists in the Guardian blogosphere. The irony is that Leggett is an ex-Greenpeace employee and, as a former Imperial College geologist, a powerful and knowledgeable ally to the environment campaigners on a range of issues, including "peak oil" – the point when global demand outstrips supply.

The debate over whether the feed-in tariff costs too much for the expected carbon reductions rumbles on but even this "social entrepreneur", who has always enjoyed a good tussle with more traditional foes, admits he has had enough of swapping increasingly fraught online words with George Monbiot, Chris Goodall and other notable greens.

"It certainly perplexed me," he said. "If I did not know the individuals involved, I'd have presumed that this is the nuclear industry pushing back at a time of imminent possible success for the renewables industries. They [atomic power firms] have declared a form of war, with EDF and E.ON having this line to government that says 'You can have nuclear or you can have renewables, but you can't have both', when previously they argued you could have both.

"But I know the actors [environmentalists] so I know it is not possible [for them to be nuclear lackeys], but George and Chris must know how damaging it is at this time. At the very minimum it is annoying that George has come out with this heady rhetoric, yet as far as I know did not actively engage in the government's long consultation on the issue." ...

Leggett has also crossed swords with Monbiot over the latter's claim that it is an "impossible dream" to build up a proper British renewables products industry given the competition from low-cost areas such as China: "I say that is needless defeatism because the global market is pitifully small. Seven gigawatts of solar was installed last year, the equivalent of seven nuclear power plants, and to think we cannot catch up and have a fully integrated national industry is needless defeatism."

And this is an area where Leggett's scary view about the world running out of oil much faster than anyone expects neatly gels with the need to promote a self-standing renewables sector.

"Security of energy supply is going to be a real issue so should we not be deliberately building a vertically integrated renewables industry on the British Isles? I think the world is going to change dramatically and globalisation, of necessity, is going to be massively set back by the unaffordability of oil, so trade routes are going to shrink and there is going to be an incredible explosion of independent thinking.

"Companies and governments are going to think much more than they do now about this. We need to be making much more stuff at home. We can't be dependent on markets far overseas."

Leggett has pushed the peak oil debate on to the political agenda by getting an increasingly broad church of industrialists – such as Sir Richard Branson, Brian Souter of Stagecoach, and Philip Dilley of Arup – to come on board. The bandwagon seems finally to have made its impact on the UK government, which is softening its former position that peak oil was being over-hyped.

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