When it comes to decisions regarding sustainable energy, spot the pattern here in terms of understanding DECC dynamics:

– Anything that’s relatively small, focussed locally, doesn’t cost a lot of money, can be done without the Big Six being able to kill it off (though they might still slow it down or dilute it), and can be steered through by Ed Davey (Secretary of State) and his ever-enthusiastic Minister, Greg Barker, without Treasury thinking that it’s of any significance, then it has a reasonable chance of happening. Eventually.

– Anything that’s big, national, involves a lot of money, depends entirely on the participation of the Big Six, seriously challenges the dominance of fossil fuels and nuclear, and requires Treasury sign-off, this has a far lower chance of ever seeing the light of day. Offshore wind may well be the only exception.
And that’s what makes the last few weeks, on the energy front, uncharacteristically upbeat. We’ve had three separate ‘launches’ from DECC during that time.

First, we had the Community Energy Strategy that I’ve already said some half-nice things about – on the grounds that it’s a not-half-bad strategy. http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/new-community-energy-strategy 

Then, just a few days ago, DECC published what was badged as ‘the first dedicated Solar Strategy of any EU Government’. That may be right, though I’m still contrary enough to point out to Greg Barker that Germany has somehow managed to install 30GW of solar over the last few years without a dedicated solar strategy, whilst we managed rather less than 4GW.

But that’s enough curmudgeonliness. Greg Barker has now set a target of 20GW of solar by 2020, including at least 1GW to be installed on the Government estate.

And lastly, just yesterday, DECC announced final details of the domestic renewable heat incentive – by all accounts, the world’s first. This is a real scheme, not a strategy, which is no doubt why it took so long to get it over the line – anywhere between three and five years, depending on where you draw the starting-point!

The RHI has been warmly received by practitioners. Householders investing in solar thermal, woodfuel or heat pumps will be eligible for payments over seven years, significantly shortening the payback period on the investment made. This will help create more of a level playing-field between solar PV (producing electricity) and solar thermal (producing heat). Both are important, and both can be installed together. And both will deliver even greater benefits if they’re installed on properties that have already been retrofitted to reduce the amount of electricity and heating needed.

Importantly, the scheme doesn’t just apply to single houses. I know that this will bore the pants off some of you, but one of the most exciting innovations I’ve come across recently is a new low-carbon heating solution from Carillion called ‘the EcoPod’. High-rise apartment blocks are being retrofitted to get rid of hopelessly inefficient heating installations (like Economy 7), replaced with a bespoke Building Management System run through a containerised plant room (that’s the EcoPod bit!) that can be installed either on the roof of the building or just stuck on at ground level.

What’s so exciting about that? Tenants’ heating bills are reduced, on average, from around £20 a week to £5 a week!

If Greg Barker (or Ed Miliband, for that matter) were serious about addressing fuel poverty whilst reducing CO2 emissions at the same time, this is the kind of innovation that shouldn’t just be indirectly supported through the RHI, but directly mandated for hundreds of tower blocks where hundreds of thousands of tenants are being cruelly ripped off week after week.

That, of course, would be a mandate too far. But in the meantime at least let’s just celebrate that troika of positive announcements from DECC on community energy, solar energy and renewable heat. Keep it up, team!