‘Smart and Fair?’

CSE launches new research programme on social justice in the future energy system

24 June 2019

The changes required to secure a smarter, more flexible, ultra-low carbon energy system will significantly disrupt the way consumers interact with and pay for the energy system.

But while changes are essential, they potentially bring with them completely new ways to generate unfairness (in terms of the distribution of costs and benefits of the new system) and to leave people behind (in terms of the complexity and cost of participating in the benefits the future energy system brings).

There is a risk that, if the changes end up leaving vulnerable people behind and creating negative social impacts, progress towards a zero carbon system will stall as public support fades. So, to avoid this risk, how could the transition be both smart and fair?

Acknowledgement of this risk is why many actors in the energy system have declared that ‘No one should be left behind’ in the energy system transition; that all energy consumers should have the opportunity to benefit from the transition (and thus ‘keep up’) while bearing only their fair share of the costs of change.

But what does this mean in practical terms? How can such a ‘smart and fair’ outcome be achieved (if indeed it can)? What are the implications of seeking to ensure that all consumers can ‘keep up’ or are protected in some way if they can’t?

To explore these key questions, CSE has established a new research programme, Smart and Fair?. Its first phase, which runs until January 2020 and is described in more detail here, is being generously supported by Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) and Western Power Distribution (WPD).

Simon Roberts OBE, CSE’s Chief Executive who will be leading the programme, said: “We need to transform the energy system to achieve net zero. But if we do that in ways which have significant negative social impacts, public support will evaporate. There’s no transformation without public support. So it’s vital we understand how to deliver a system which is both smart and fair.”

Stewart Reid, Head of Future Networks at SSEN, notes: “While many have committed to the various versions of the principle that ‘no one should be left behind’ in the transition to a smarter energy system, there’s still a lot of work to do to understand what that principle looks in practice. By supporting CSE’s Smart and Fair? research, we’ll be helping to build that understanding and to develop approaches to inform our future practice.”

Alison Sleightholm, Resources and External Affairs Director at WPD, said: “As the energy system gets smarter, WPD recognises its responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable are both protected from undue impacts and supported to participate in the benefits of new services. To fulfil that responsibility, we need to know much more about the risks and opportunities involved. We’re therefore delighted to support and be involved with CSE’s new Smart and Fair? programme to explore these issues, identify challenges and propose solutions.”

You can read about the Smart and Fair? project in more detail here.

This is the original essay by Simon Roberts, CSE’s Chief Executive, which explores what the principle of 'no one left behind' means for regulating a smarter energy system.

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