A secure and consumer-focused energy system is within reach – here’s how we can get there

Sarah Merrick, Ripple’s founder and CEO, wrote a piece for Business Green reflecting on the current state of the energy market and looking forward into 2023. The piece is below or you can read it at Business Green directly.

Image of Sarah with quote saying "The events of 2023 have hammered home the importance of an energy system that relies on home-grown power and is resilient to geopolitics and fossil fuel shortages"

The events of 2023 have hammered home the importance of an energy system that relies on home-grown power and is resilient to geopolitics and fossil fuel shortages, writes Ripple Energy’s Sarah Merrick

2022 was a year when energy has dominated UK headlines for all the wrong reasons. The impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine, subsequent restriction in fossil fuel gas and rise in energy prices has shaken economies on a global scale. Alongside the Ukraine war, we’ve also faced shifting global patterns of energy consumption, a struggling European nuclear fleet and a lack of gas storage in the UK. All of which has exacerbated our already restricted energy supply and caused prices to rise further in response.

We weren’t prepared for the price spike. Years of underinvestment in energy efficiency and an over-reliance on fossil fuels left us vulnerable with consumers and businesses having to suffer the consequences

In the UK we’ve seen extraordinary levels of government intervention in response to the price spikes to help make energy affordable for consumers and businesses. The energy price cap has been a lifeline for so many consumers and without it the impact of the crisis would undoubtedly be a lot worse. Yet for some businesses this support hasn’t been enough to prevent them going under because they couldn’t afford the energy bills. Each week we hear a new story of a pub calling time for good, a shop shutting doors or a small business reducing opening hours.

That’s why protecting ourselves from future turbulence has also been high on the agenda this year.

The energy crisis has changed the way we think about renewables versus gas and emphasised the importance of building a secure energy system that relies on home-grown power that is resilient to geopolitics and fossil fuel shortages.

Domestic consumers have been looking for new ways to engage in such an energy system and secure their households against future price spikes. Whether it’s investing in solar panels, improving insulation, or purchasing part of an energy asset like wind turbines through Ripple – this year we’ve seen a huge jump in people wanting to take more control over their energy futures.

At a personal level, it has been a joy to see our members engage in energy ownership as we energised our first consumer-owned wind turbine in Graig Fatha, Wales earlier in the year. Seeing the real-time data brought our members’ expectations about Ripple to life and seeing their electricity bill savings has been a real game changer. The light bulb moment of ‘own a bit of a wind farm and get cheaper electricity’ happened.  Suddenly people understood what Ripple was about.

As we look towards 2023, I’d like to see more consumer and community ownership baked into new renewable energy projects so that every day citizens can enjoy the benefits of energy ownership.

It’s clear now that consumers are engaged and want a say in their energy futures – we’ve seen it through the number of people registering their interest in Ripple. More than 2,000 people registered their interest in our third project in a single weekend, that’s more than double the number of people who own the whole of Graig Fatha. As we gear up for the coming year, we are getting ready to launch this project so that all those who have registered can purchase their share, as well as building our second 19MW wind farm in Scotland which has roughly 5,000 owners who are all waiting to begin benefitting from the bill savings.

This heightened engagement in the energy system is being driven by the increasing electrification of the economy. Consumers and businesses are making changes to tackle climate change and reduce their carbon footprints. All future energy predictions anticipate huge increases in EVs and heat pumps over the coming years which, in turn, will drive the need to make these technologies more affordable and require a significant increase in electricity needed to power these new technologies.

The relaxing of the moratorium on wind in England is a welcome move by the government to enable this increase in electricity generation capacity, and I hope that it will help accelerate onshore wind projects across England in 2023, as well as Scotland and Wales.

Companies developing these new wind farms or solar parks should explore making portions of these sites available for consumer ownership, as the appetite is there. Several renewables developers already attach community benefit funds to new projects to provide support for people living in the areas close to the renewable energy generation sites. But enabling communities and consumers to part-own the projects is the next step in this relationship – it gives communities a stake in the site, helping them to become more engaged in their clean energy future and breaking down barriers to ownership.

It is also vital that energy networks and the government take steps in the next year to improve grid capacity and the speed of upgrades. It’s all well and good enabling more onshore wind and encouraging new solar developments, but if the underlying energy network cannot connect them to the grid, then we will not meet development targets and prolong our reliance on gas, further exposing ourselves to ever-changing global energy markets as well as failing to tackle climate change.

2022 was the year we had to face energy vulnerability, 2023 should see consumers placed at the heart of a stronger and more secure energy system. The people have the will. The government and private sector must now work together to provide the way.

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