Should energy be boring?

(c) Victor Evans; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In her speech on a new direction for UK energy policy yesterday, Amber Rudd announced that she thinks “energy policy should be boring”.

Thanks Amber – it already is.

We think energy policy could, and should be, interesting, creative, inspiring…

Amber thinks people shouldn’t have to worry about energy policy, in her words, “energy policy shouldn’t be noticed.”

Energy security she continues, is, “the first priority –  it is fundamental to the health of our economy and the lives of our people”, says Amber.

This is a blanket statement, a warm blanket even.

An energy security blanket statement.

Should energy be something the UK feels smothered in? If it “underpins everything we do”, then acknowledging a bit of energy insecurity would be an important thing – a bit of give and take as in any relationship –understanding the issues and making an effort to work things out – together.

Amber again: “Most of us take energy for granted. The lights come on and when we want them to and that’s exactly as it should be.”

Indeed. Amber is right. Most of us do take energy for granted, but perhaps more of ‘us’ shouldn’t. To make something invisible is to reduce our ability to act to create change, to conceal the points where we have agency, where we might want to make an innovative or ethical decision…

Our work on the Stories of Change project has shown just how interesting, dynamic, important and insecure our energy story is. We think it is something to be talked about and noticed. And most importantly of all it should be something that we all take part in.

Yesterday, Amber argued that,

“Climate change is a big problem, it needs big technologies.”  Implying hands off, top-down technical solutions…

But, at the same time tells us,

“This much I know, climate change will not be solved by a group of over-tired politicians and negotiators in a conference centre.  It will take action by businesses, civil society, cities, regions and countries.”

The latter statement implies the need for a cultural shift and social and political transformation. We argue that to do so implies inviting people into, and acknowledging what they are already doing in the story of energy change…

In the Future Works strand of Stories of Change we have found many people with much to say to reinvigorate and challenge thinking and doing around energy. Their questions, concerns and innovations offer the possibility for transformation…

A few examples that spring to mind include…

A Sheffield School of Architecture One Great Workshop Live Project worked with tenants at community owned cutlery factory Portland Works to co-produce an energy strategy. Their designs to rethink sources of fuel and reduce energy consumption used humour and drew on skills, tools and precise local knowledges on site that resulted in practical and sophisticated solutions that could be used beyond this single building

The students showed the relation between global and local with infographics that asked ‘What happens when Russia Turns off the tap?’ Or ‘What happens when you turn on a lightbulb at Portland Works?’

Scenario building with factory owners, students, and museum curators at Derby Silk Mill led community energy advocate Ian Jackson to speculate on the possibility of community nuclear power… Ian reminded us also of what he called, “the low-carbon revolution”. The enormous changes to industry in the eighteenth century were originally powered by water. Ian and his colleagues are doing their bit to bring back hydropower to the Derwent Valley region with ADVyCE.

Employers and employees at Gripple driven by social responsibility stated the importance for their businesses to think about energy far beyond the walls of their building to other places, countries and people…

A question from the CEO of C.Spencer Ltd. about whether all industry that generates excess heat should be linked to Combined Heat and Power systems through government policy.

Innovation in car body design at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Composite Materials department that eschews resins produced with fossil fuels in favour of spoilers and bonnets made of cashew nut shells and flax… (also prototyped in this nifty snowboard)

These narratives, actions and questions challenge ‘business as usual’ thinking and show energy to be far from boring.

… so here are the first thoughts about the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change’s speech from Julia Udall and Renata Tyszczuk of the Future Works team, more to come no doubt from Demanding Times, and Everyday Lives



This post is illustrated with the image of “At the Coal Face” by Nicholas Evans drawn in 1978 (“the year of the winter of discontent”).

© the artist’s estate
photo credit: Government Art Collection

It hangs in the Department of Energy and Climate Change offices. Amber Rudd referred to it in the opening lines of her speech. For her, ” it conjures up a Britain from a wholly different age.”


6 responses to “Should energy be boring?

  1. Reblogged this on ecoartscotland and commented:
    Thought provoking questions challenging the assumptions about energy policy. Very relevant to the questions we are asking with the Land Art Generator Glasgow project. Many thanks to Chloe Uden and the Power Culture blog for highlighting.


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