The world is divided. The truth of this statement has never been more evident than it is today. We live in a time of polarised opinions and radicalisation, spurred on by the echo chambers of social media. One only has to look at the bitterness with which the last US Presidential election was fought, or the enmity that descended on the UK in the wake of the European referendum. The emotion is real, the convictions are, for the most part, genuine but the outcome is chaos!
Whilst it may seem a bit of a stretch to compare the crumbling US political landscape with the UK decarbonisation debate (no one has yet tried to storm the Climate Change Committee!), emotions can run pretty high here too. I’ve sat in meetings, looking at the merits of different technologies, that have got pretty heated at times! It may be hard to believe that someone could get worked up about the efficiency of a heat pump but trust me…it happens! People care. These technologies not only represent the UK’s best chance of reducing the catastrophic impact that we’re having on the planet, but they’re also responsible for people’s livelihoods, their jobs, their homes and their ability to feed their kids. It’s a complicated picture.
We’ve been part of the heat debate for the last ten years, working alongside partners developing pretty much every technology you can think of in this space. And as a team, we’ve all developed our areas of specialisation. I do a lot of work on hydrogen solutions, Rory, who sits next to me (or at least he did when you were allowed to sit next to people), works with heat pump manufacturers. It’s probably not hugely surprising therefore that I feel pretty passionate about hydrogen’s role in the future energy system whilst Rory recently started dating a heat pump (this is a joke, Rory has a very nice fiancée called Katy who isn’t a heat pump). But whilst we enjoy a heated (pun intended!) debate on the merits of our favourite technologies, the reality is, there’s little value in polarised views. In my heart of hearts, I know that we need to deploy heat pumps as fast a humanly possible, and Rory will begrudgingly admit that we can’t decarbonise heat without hydrogen.
One of the things that I spend a lot of my time doing is trying to get people to a place of consensus. It’s not an easy task. Especially when you’re working with organisations who are used to competing with each other in the market place. They’re just not naturally wired that way. But, consensus is a powerful tool when it comes to influencing and shaping energy policy. It gets things done. It requires a little compromise on everyone’s part but in the end it moves things forward. It’s better to have a small slice of a big pie than the 100% of nothing! I’ve seen this approach work on everything from smart heating controls to hydrogen. Industry groups developing collective positions on policy, underpinned by solid analysis and evidence, is one of the best recipes for realising meaningful policy change that I’ve come across.
It’s naïve to think that we will ever get to a place where the world isn’t divided. I actually think that debate and disagreement can be pretty healthy and useful when done respectfully and preferably not on social media. But in 2021, perhaps we could experiment a little more with compromise and consensus. Then finally, we might just see the change that we’re all fighting for.