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Britain Must Invest in 100% Renewables Before The Lights Go Out

31/03/2014 12:04 BST | Updated 29/05/2014 10:59 BST

In 2007 Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the following: 'There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.' Last year, Thorsten Heins, CEO of BlackBerry said: 'In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore.' There is a trend here which suggests that people are notoriously bad at predicting the future even in their own fields of expertise.

It is with this in mind that I recount a recent discussion with Labour Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex who is committed to renewable energy usage in Britain, as stated in the Energy Bill. The Bill outlines a 'decarbonisation target' for the electricity sector by 2030 however even with this commitment it proposes a reliance on shale gas post-2030. I asked Mr Greatrex whether he sees the viability of a 100% commitment to renewable energy for Britain and he replied that the 'UK will still need significant amounts of gas', however that is only according to our current energy usage. We have yet to attempt to lower our high-energy consumption and according to figures from the Centre for Alternative Technology's Zero Carbon Britain report it is possible to power a lifestyle with around 16,800 KWh per person per year which can be achieved if we opt to live more energy efficiently.

The Climate Change Act 2008 commits us to reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 based on 190 levels and current projections (if we go down the 'dash for gas' route) mean that we'll miss this target despite the Government saying that the gas is a 'transition fuel' to a low carbon economy. Politicians are quick to point the pollution finger at China and cite poor air quality in Beijing but in fact Britain has not been meeting its limits on nitrogen dioxide for over a decade now which has led to the European commission taking legal action against us. We could be facing potential of fines of up to £300m a year as there are clear links between NO2 and major respiratory problems and premature death.

Speak to any MP about future energy sources and the discussion centres around shale gas or new nuclear with no cards on the table for 100% renewable sources (apart from Green Party politicians and their leader Natalie Bennett). Yet fracking is highly carbon intensive and poses a host of potential environmental problems, many of which we may have to discover the hard way, and nuclear is in no way a 'clean' energy since it is not carbon neutral and it comes with the additional complication of creating dangerous waste that we are not particularly efficient at disposing of.

Significant investment in renewable energy fails to get a seat at the table in the energy debate in Britain even though recent polls show that British people prefer wind turbines to fracking wells and there is potential for renewables creating much-needed jobs in the UK. Instead the Coalition Government is committing Britain to shale gas expansion despite less than 1 in 4 Britons supporting it. Aside from being a climate change denier Environment Secretary Owen Paterson appears to have dubious links to people in the shale gas industry and has called Britain's shale gas reserves as 'one unexpected and potentially huge windfall.' Paterson also supports aviation expansion and has claimed that climate change could be a positive thing for agriculture. With so much hot air leaving the mouths of politicians it's hard not to congratulate Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Davey for telling Tory climate deniers to 'shut it' earlier this month but even Mr Davey has declared his love affair with fossil fuels with the words: 'I love shale gas'. On the other side of the coin, or the same side depending on your pessimism, Ed Miliband has said that 'Britain is sleepwalking to a climate crisis' but a fracking knees up recently took place in London with all the big players in the shale gas industry in attendance which suggests that Britain has already been committed to years of shale gas investment despite overwhelming public outcry against it and politicians' attempts to convince us otherwise.

Tom Greatrex was a speaker at this event. In his view Britain cannot go down the 100% renewable route due to high energy usage from transport and heating, However British people are crying out for affordable, efficient forms of public transport and heating options and those who wish to invest in solar panels find the prices too high. The incentive for British people to upgrade to sustainable heating options are not affordable while fossil fuels continue to be subsidised and our renewable energy investment puts us far behind other European countries like Sweden, Norway, and Latvia.

Scientists state that if we can capture approximately 1% of the sunlight falling on to the British Isles and turn it into electricity we can meet our current energy demands, but we won't because of the lack of financial investment, despite the cost to our planet and health being so high. Another common anti-renewable argument centres around the lack of energy storage technology but new developments have the potential to change the way we live in ways we cannot predict. For example the recently unveiled perovskite solar panel can capture high efficiencies of 15 per cent and scientists believe it will lead to 'the emergence of a contender for ultimately low-cost solar power.' By investing in these technologies now we can potentially ignite a solar energy revolution in Britain that will keep our lights on without committing us to climate chaos.

St Augustine once said 'fallor ergo sum' meaning 'to err is human': we get things wrong but we also have the power to learn from our mistakes. There are two energy futures ahead of us and there is still time to tackle the major human-made mistake that is climate change. How much worse extreme weather will have to get before governments begin to act is anyone's guess but there's no question that what we need to aim for is 100% renewable energy to power Britain by 2030 and look at reducing emissions in the interim. Until we do this anything David Cameron says about Britain becoming energy independent is only hot air and is arguably causing more damage to our planet than anything else right now.