Everything we can do, Germany can do (ten times) better
Everyone knows the Germans are better at green kit than we are in the UK. But I hadn't realised the gulf between us until I did some jiggerypokery with a calculator.
It started with a report from the Pew Foundation in March. Its latest league table of investment in green energy saw the UK drop from fifth in 2009 to a miserable 13th in 2010. This was down, say the authors, to "a sharp decline in offshore wind energy investments and uncertainty surrounding the policy perspective of a new government" - not an auspicious start for the self-proclaimed 'Greenest Government Ever'.
But are such country-v-country comparisons cricket? After all, our fair islands are quite a lot smaller than some other countries, in terms of energy use, population and even in some cases overall size of the economy. So how much does the UK actually spend per person, compared to other countries? And how much does it spend as a proportion of its GDP?
Here's the answer. And those hoping for a leap up the league table may wish to look away now.
It's true that on a per head of population basis (table 1 in the above link) the UK did a tiny bit better. It spent the equivalent of $52 per head of population on renewable energy in 2010: in league table terms, that pushes it ahead of developing nations like China and Brazil, up into 9th.
Not that this in itself is much to be proud of. China's almost spending the same as the UK per head of population, despite us having only 5 per cent the size of its population. And China and other nations are industrialising rapidly, ratcheting up the spending in absolute terms on green energy. Most countries in the list, developing or otherwise, have a stronger five-year growth rate than the UK. On these trends, give it a few years, and ours is relegation form.
Australia, the USA, Spain, and Canada all spent twice as much or more per head of population as did the UK; Italy (at $228 per head), over four times as much. And as for Germany? $509 per head. A staggering 10 times more.
Chop the data up by spending as a proportion of GDP (table 2) and it doesn't look any better, I'm afraid. Germany spends a remarkable eight times more than the UK on renewables, as a percentage of its total economy. We linger down in 11th, below all the other big European economies, and more than three times less than China.
That Germany's outspending the UK on green stuff isn't news. They've had an equivalent of a Green Investment Bank firing on all cylinders for years - unlike the straightjacketed UK version to which the Government has grudgingly given the green light - and a longstanding and deep commitment to cracking on with building a low-carbon economy.
All eyes should now be on the Government's much-vaunted Electricity Market Reform (EMR) plans. Supposed to deliver £110 billion of investment in low-carbon energy, the sneaking suspicion is that Ministers will simply support new nuclear and lots of new gas-fired power stations. Meanwhile, Germany's upping the game still further, contemplating a 100 per cent renewable energy future: we need to follow suit, and fast.
Vorsprung durch Technik, and all that. Without a serious change of heart in July's EMR White Paper, dreams of being competitive with the Germans will continue to rely on clichéd memories of 1966.
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