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Rethinking the Energy in our Economy

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If we're going to get to the root of the challenges of sustainably securing our energy supplies whilst decarbonising the energy sector, then we need to think again about just what our existing reliance on fossil fuels means for us all.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, our ability to access cheap and plentiful fossil fuels has enabled us in the West to deliver advances in technology, economic wealth and standards of living. Fossil fuels provide the life blood for our way of life, but with a potentially devastating long term environmental cost.

Economically speaking, the problem with this approach is that we've built a house on sand. Fossil fuel supplies are finite in their nature, and they will run out one day.

The reality is that up until now we've had it pretty easy when it comes to getting to those supplies. That is no longer a luxury we have available to us. Here in the UK, we're now buying more and more of our energy from abroad because our own fossil fuels, first coal and now gas, are running out. As a result, we can no longer control the price we pay for our energy. We have to increasingly bid against other countries on the international markets to get the energy we need to keep our lights on and our homes warm. Rising demand from developing countries like India and China, emulating the West's approach to economic development to raise living standards for their own people, places greater pressure on those resources, increasing their cost. Elsewhere in the world, whether it is through exploiting tar sands in Canada, fracking for gas in the US or drilling ever deeper for oil in the Artic, we are turning to more dangerous and extreme methods to extract them.

The fact is that we're waking up with a hangover from a 250 year fossil fuel binge.

Renewable technologies represent one of the few ready and easily deployable solutions to the energy challenges we face. But as those challenges increase in years to come, what would happen if we didn't turn to that technology to meet them? What would the wider impacts be if we failed to replace the finite fossil energy sources which sustain our very way of life?

Delivering a more renewable future is not only about where we source our electricity from, nor is it just about building solar or wind farms.

More needs to be done to challenge the preconceptions that still exist around how we manage our energy. Because we've taken our energy supplies for granted for so long, then that naturally frames our relationship with it. The public debate still tends to follow that reality, simply focusing solely on the short-term costs to the consumer, when in fact that is just part of the challenge we face.

We need to change the terms of that debate so that it focusses more on how moving away from fossil fuels can allow us to harness renewable energy technology to deliver a better, more intelligent energy market, and one that helps people use the natural, renewable resources around them to give them more control over their energy. We need greater in-depth thinking about the transformational impact of renewable technology, its relationship with our economic system, and the benefits that it can bring to us all.

And the leadership we need to do that has to come from within our sector.

For Good Energy, we are seeking to play our part by partnering with Birkbeck, University of London, to launch a new PhD studentship. The studentship will assess what would happen to our economy if we didn't invest in renewable energy technology, given the rising global energy demand.

We think it's important that our sector as a whole starts setting out a longer-term vision of just what it can do. If we as an industry do more to support this kind of strategic thinking, then that will help us set the terms of the debate in the media and in Westminster more easily. If we can challenge people's ideas and preconceptions about the world we live in today and its relationship with the energy we use, then it becomes easier to communicate the importance of investing in energy technology which is sustainable not just environmentally, but economically too.

Good Energy is the UK's leading 100% renewable electricity supplier, and is committed to promoting a 100% renewable vision for the UK's energy market. You can find out more about Good Energy's PhD Studentship at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/news/renewable-energy-studentship-forged-by-new-industry-university-links