TV presenter, George Clarke looks to the future and sees hope on the renewable horizon

I think we can all agree that 2020 was awful. As much as is possible, it definitely feels like it’s time to turn the page and focus on a more hopeful 2021.

There have been some amazing successes that we should be really proud of.

Our NHS has been nothing short of remarkable during the pandemic. ‘Heroes’ doesn’t seem to be a word that goes far enough to describe our amazing NHS staff who’ve worked so hard, under so much pressure, putting themselves at risk while saving the lives of others. Incredible!

And then there are life science experts.

In record time they’ve developed, had approved and rolled out vaccines that will protect the lives of millions. That’s pretty staggering.

And I have to commend the government on backing nearly every horse in the race to create a vaccine in the first place.

Good news all round.

The government needs to back the young to offer genuine hope for a green future

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter

Time for a rethink

Unfortunately, for many people they are going through a very tough time and 2021 is not going to be easy.

I do worry what impact the end of the furlough scheme is going to have on jobs, and future job creation in a world that has very much changed, as well as the amount of debt the country needs to pay off once Covid is eventually defeated.

Without sounding like a politician, we genuinely need everyone to get back to work as quickly as possible, get the economy going again and get our social lives back because at the end of the day we are social animals.

But, with so many job losses expected over the next few years we need to think about how we boost existing industries as well as creating new ones to keep people in work.

Green revolutionary times

When it comes to new jobs we have a great opportunity staring us right in the eyes.

The climate crisis is a real and present danger, some would argue a greater threat than a global pandemic, which was created by us and that can only be fixed by us.

Therefore, we needed to invest in the green technologies, ecological innovation and establish green education and training programmes to create millions of new jobs in a new and hopefully exciting sustainable world.

In the 19th century we had the industrial revolution, in the 20th century we had the digital revolution, in the 21st century we need the most revolutionary and ambitious GREEN REVOLUTION.

George Clarke Ecodan1092
Heat pumps are the future The increasing use of air source heat pumps gives George Clarke hope for the future

A 10 point plan

To begin this process, in November 2020, the British Prime Minister announced a Ten Point Plan in a 38-page document that is aimed at eradicating the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050, which has been enshrined into law as part of the net-zero emissions target.

It is worth listing a mini summary of what this Ten Point Plan is:

  1. A ban on combustion engine sales by 2030
  2. A pledge to quadruple offshore wind power by 2030
  3. Boost hydrogen production, with the promise of a town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade
  4. Investment in Nuclear Power and the next generation of small and advanced reactors
  5. £1bn next year to insulate homes and public buildings using the green homes grant
  6. Support for greener energies in the aviation and maritime sectors
  7. 30,000 hectares of trees planted every year
  8. An extra £200m invested in carbon capture initiatives
  9. Plans to promote public transport, cycling and walking
  10. A pledge to make London “the global centre of green finance”

Exciting or a bit pathetic?

The government has stated that this new initiative will support 250,000 jobs and they’ll invest £12bn, which they hope will stimulate further investment from the private sector... (By the way £4bn of the £12bn is money already committed in previous announcements, so there is only £8bn of new money) 

Now, this might all sound very exciting and I do feel bad for putting a dampener on it, but I have to say “ITS NOT ENOUGH! It is nowhere near enough!”

When public funds have been wasted on a ‘Covid 19 test and trace’ scheme that allegedly cost £22bn (I still can’t get my head around how it could cost that much!), it makes this £12bn announce the look a bit pathetic.

HS2 is expected to cost around £100bn. What is more important, fighting climate change or a faster train to Birmingham?

A proper investment

If this announcement is intended to be a radical investment to help solve a frightening global problem that will create many jobs and bring in lots of tax revenue for the government over the next say 50 years AND create amazing research and development and intellectual property that companies in the UK will own and could sell around the world, why not go for bigger numbers? 

With 1.7m people currently unemployed and with that figure set to rise to over 2.5m by the end of 2021, why not announce £100bn of government investment instead to create over 2m jobs in a new green revolution?

That’s a proper investment in a proper green revolution and that’s the level of ambition needed to meet our 2050 promise.

The faster we scale up, the more investment goes into more advanced technologies and the result is more affordable green products become for consumers.

So, let’s get on with it!

Pump up the heat

A great example of a growing green industry is air source heat pumps.

It’s taken over 10 years of R&D and risk taking by the private sector to get air source heat pumps to where they are today and the market is growing fast.

The Heat Pump Association recently announced that manufactures have placed orders with their supply chain to deliver a total of 67,000 heat pump units in 2021.

With 35,000 heat pumps sold in 2019 this is a massive lift in the number of orders and should be celebrated.

But, with over 25 million existing homes in the UK (the vast majority of those have oil or gas boilers!) and the construction industry building over 200,000 new build homes per year, you can see that the 67,000 heat pump order book should be at least 3 or 4 times more per year to support more sustainable new-build homes as well as the ecological retrofitting or existing homes.

Raising awareness

That journey requires a big education and awareness programme to make people aware of the new green technology, much higher ecological building standards, incentives to consumers to transfer to heat pumps and a much, much bigger army of highly trained approved installers.

We have to retrain existing engineers to embrace this new technology and create a new generation of young ‘heat pump apprentices’ to sign up to training courses.

We should all embrace a new zero-carbon future, but with so many young people worried about the prospect of finding a job, I’m sure they would jump at the chance of being a vital part of a 21st century UK Green Revolution.

The government just need to back more of them and then there will be genuine hope for a green future.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter