One of the things that has surprised me about the government and Brownlee’s energy policy is that it is so mundane and 20th century. In every other area of their political electoral strategy we saw a pithy slogan, often pinched from overseas, substituting for policy and dumbed it down to the level of the dittoheads and ‘punters‘ that National likes to fool. Of course the implementations are a lot worse than the rhetoric because they really don’t seem to have a government strategy to back up the electoral one. But not Brownlee..
But the pithy slogan “Smart grid” is up for grabs, but neither National nor Brownlee seem to know about it. Jeanette Fitzsimmons knows what she is talking about in energy, so she would. However perhaps Brownlee’s fear that danger of her knowing the portflio better than he did is what caused yesterdays events. What she didn’t know, she couldn’t help him to correct.
Anyway, back on smart grid’s – according to the Economist
AMERICA wants one. So do Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, Germany, Italy and Japan, to name a few. Even Malta is building one. Big utilities, such as ElectricitÃ© de France and American Electric Power, are keen. So are industrial heavyweights such as GE and Siemens, and computing giants including Cisco Systems, Google, IBM and Microsoft. Al Gore and other environmentalists are ardent advocates. So are dyed-in-the-wool capitalists such as T. Boone Pickens. Endless surveys suggest that consumers would embrace them enthusiastically. Barack Obama is a big fan: he rated them as one of the highlights of America’s stimulus bill, which lavished $3.9 billion on them. Businesses, sensing an opportunity, are investing with alacrity (see article). No one, it seems, has a bad word to say about smart grids.
The slogan has a political advantage in that no-one actually knows what it means. That makes it a very good slogan in NZ conservative politics. You can make it mean anything you want.
But Brownlee doesn’t appear to be into the current world like the one that Joyce and Key follow of having meaningless electoral slogans and ineffectual governance. To me, Brownlee seems more a man of the 20th century from the way that he keeps looking for faded and failed solutions in energy. It reminds me of Robert Muldoon in the 1970’s and 80’s, always trying policies that might have worked in the 1950’s. Explains why it looks like our grid and energy systems will get even worse under his guidance.
Back on my topic again. The title of the Economist leader is “Clever, but unprincipled“. That seems like a natural for a National ‘policy’, all slogan and no thought.
As the Economist says..
Moreover, the biggest impediment to the spread of renewables in most countries is not an antiquated grid, but the lack of a price on carbon. Consumers waste power not just because they cannot regulate their spending very precisely, but also because it often does not cost very much. Most utilities have an incentive to sell as much power as they can, dirty or clean.
In short, smart grids are not a substitute for a proper energy policy. Mr Obama and other politicians will still need to put in place regulations that encourage investment in energy efficiency and cleaner forms of generationâ€”almost certainly meaning higher bills, however smart the grid. That, naturally, will be a lot less popular than a miraculous technical fix.
Umm perhaps that explains the reason that Brownlee hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon yet. It involves words that Brownlee doesn’t like – policy, regulation, investment, and price. Not to mention imagination, political work and joining the 21st century.
It is a pity, because some of the ideas around this slogan are probably applicable to NZ. Improving our grid and generation facilities to use and store renewable energy seems like a natural for NZ. Hot-topic points to Spain which has been showing the way to use the surplus power to run the natural batteries of a renewables grid. Use the off-peak generated renewable power by pumping water into dams, then release during the peak load times.
Of course this is probably a bit complicated for Brownlee. He likes coal stations for no apparent reason. Their carbon costs under the Kyoto agreement are horrendous. I’d anticipate their economic being even worse under the Copenhagen agreement when it gets off the ground. If the power generators don’t pay it, then under the governments emissions trading scheme, then we the taxpayers will.
I guess Brownlee is still stuck in the mid-2oth century, because I still haven’t heard him articulate what he wants to do in the energy sector. All he has managed to do is say what he won’t do. Like help reduce consumption or figure out how to bring more cheapish energy online.