James Kirkup wants us all to know that net zero is going to be really lovely and easy because markets work. Well, yes and no. Markets do work but the question is how do we get them to do so?
Those Tory opponents of wind power were wrong, and wrong in a very un-Conservative way: they bet against the market. They failed to anticipate one of the most important developments in the past decade of human history: the sharply falling cost of renewable energy. Globally, the cost of power from onshore wind is down 70 per cent since 2010.
That’s because markets work. The financial incentive to generate more power from renewables more cheaply drove industry to innovate and improve. Ignoring Cameron’s feebleness, the market anticipated demand for renewable energy and innovated to meet it. Comparing new sites, it’s now cheaper to get power from new wind than to burn coal.
Whether we wholly believe the assertion there isn’t quite the point. Dispatchable power is not quite the same thing as intermittent and that explains at least some of that price difference. We can also mutter about whether those wind prices include the construction of the necessary dispatchable back up power and so on.
But Kirkup is making a different mistake about that power of markets. Because he’s still running with the idea that the wise people in government are usefully able to pick and choose how a problem is to be solved. Which ain’t so.
It’s fine – well, fine if you’re right – to say that this thing is bad, something must be done to reduce or cease this thing. It’s the leap over to therefore I should decide what should replace this thing which is the error. Because you’re just you. And if you’re a Minister it’s worse, you’ve done PPE with a masters in backstabbing, not anything actually useful when considering technological alternatives.
So, the correct policy is to deter that bad thing while leaving it open to all and sundry to come up with replacements. Which might include less commuting, more working from home, smaller cars, better insulation, fracking, nuclear, solar, tidal, microwaving ‘leccie down from space based solar and on and on and on.
That is, the answer is to introduce the disincentive – the carbon tax – and leave the solution space open.
Just because carbon emissions are a problem – OK, even if carbon emissions aren’t but are identified as such – it’s still true that politicians deciding upon technologies is the incorrect answer.