Sustainability Education

- Sustainability in 300 words or less.

Renewables will win out in the end

Over the next few decades, thanks to global warming, we are going to witness the rise of two things: sea levels and renewable energy. Both seem inevitable.

The 2010's will be looked back on as the decade when the old fossil fuel and nuclear dominance of the energy sector was devastatingly disrupted by new renewable tech. The 2020's and 30's will see it mainstream. 

While this big picture is tremendously exciting (look at what is happening to renewable energy prices in the US for example), there are many schools and businesses around the UK who are not feeling so great about their investment in solar right now.

The short term pain of Government interference

In December, Greenpeace began campaigning (sign the petition) against the forthcoming hikes to taxes on commercial properties, including state schools. As of April 2017, business rates taxes on commercial rooftop solar installations will rise by between six and eight times. Ministers can intervene to prevent this, hence the Greenpeace petition, but whether or not they will remains in doubt. Follow Zac Boren for the latest.

Solar boomed in the years leading up to 2015 as schools and businesses took advantage of the Feed in Tariff (FiT). The FiT represented Government intervention in the free market, a subsidy to help solar grow; it was spectacularly successful. So successful it seems that the Government is now set to intervene at the other end, by applying the heavy tax Greenpeace are protesting against. It will undoubtedly check the growth of solar and add to job losses in what should be a growth sector. Given the rapid development of solar tech, removal of the FiT subsidy seems rational (although it could have been implemented a lot slower and with more consideration for the companies it was putting out of business); the tax hike, especially at the severity predicted, is infuriating and a clear signal of this Government's priorities. 

This tax hike seems irrational and counter to the neo-liberal obsessions of 'low tax, low regulation, low prices'. What's more, at a time when political rhetoric is all about 'taking back control' it seems very odd that we'd put the reins on a form of energy production that is sustainable, secure and very easy to control. If Ministers don't intervene to prevent or at least limit the tax hike, we can only assume that they are protecting other (older, dirtier) energy providers from the plummeting cost of solar technology*.

Taking solace from the bigger picture

As painful as the tax hike will be for schools and businesses, it is ultimately a backhanded compliment from the Government. They recognise the inevitable rise of renewables and they are desperate to exploit that success as soon as possible. So while it is excruciating to watch Solar energy getting a hammering right now, we need to take some solace that the future looks very bright for renewable energy. As of Jan 1st 2017 all trains in the Netherlands are 100% powered by wind power, I don't think we are able to imagine what renewables will be powering by Jan 1st 2027!

Government's are temporary, free market forces are unstoppable, renewables will win out in the end. 


Footnote: I left Eco-Schools just before this photo was taken (these two things are not necessarily directly correlated, but I would have struggled to stand next to Theresa May with a dutiful smile on my face). I hope Keep Britain Tidy and other environmental NGO's use this photo and the PM's comments to lobby her and other Ministers to intervene and prevent the tax hike. This is what Prime Minister May is reported to have said:

The Prime Minister praised the school’s efforts and spoke to the children about her trip to the UN in New York earlier this week to discuss climate change and said that, although it was a ‘big problem’, we could all make a difference every day in small ways and the more people who did that, the more chance we had of tackling the global issue.

I hope she sticks to her word.


*In fact, what they might be doing is desperately trying to scrabble together enough money to cover the cost of decommissioning the soon to dry up oil and gas fields under the North Sea. The estimated cost of this to the tax payer? £24 billion. Not sure if the Government will be able to raise that much in taxes from the sales of renewable energy, but I'm sure the Treasury would be delighted if it did. 

Morgan Phillips