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How To Solve The Energy Crisis? Citizens Are Key

History repeats itself - but rarely in a way that we’d like. Everyone hoped that the 2020s would be a lot like the 1920s. After covid, the world was in for an ecstasy of economic activity. It would be fine tailoring, well-mixed drinks and a second Jazz Age.

Except it hasn’t been like that. Not even a little. The UK is in the midst of its “weakest decade for pay growth since the 1930s”, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation, a think tank. Meanwhile, the cost of living in the UK is at its highest since September 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Then there’s inflation. This almost hit a 30-year high of 5.4% in December. But the great compounder of peoples’ travails is the energy crisis. In 2021, a typical home was paying around £1042 for gas and electricity per year, in April – when the price cap changes – that figure is likely to increase to £2000.

Crises require collaboration

People are hoping that governments, central banks, and energy companies will step in with measures to alleviate the spate of issues facing households. The chancellor’s announcement to provide a repayable £200 discount on bills and a further £150 council tax rebate for most homes in England will serve as some comfort, but the majority will still face a shortfall. Is the right solution for people to quietly struggle? Of course not. As the situation worsens, we might anticipate a wave of radical creativity and activity from citizens. We know from experience that catastrophes are mobilising moments, they spark new thinking, collaboration, and help knit society together.  Consider the pandemic – a single emergency inspired 436,000 people to join the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme. The service reckons these people carried out about 2-million covid-associated tasks. Then there was all the clapping and banging of saucepans in the street to celebrate the efforts of health workers – crises are traumatic, but they unite.

Take the power back

It’s easy to see how citizens might mobilise in response to covid – delivering essentials to quarantining neighbours, staffing a vaccine centre, or just being conscientious when it comes to handwashing and mask-wearing. But the issues at hand require more thought. What can people do in response to soaring energy prices and inflation? The answer might lie in the rise of a consumer-centric energy market. We are currently seeing the first phase of this with a year-on-year increase in solar panel installations. There is room for growth, as of 2020, 970,000 UK homes are using them, according to government figures – that’s only 3.3% of the country. Further along, it’s possible that citizens will tire of paying huge prices to huge companies and opt for creating energy themselves. This could see the birth of localised power co-operatives, where energy is produced peer-to-peer. New, low-cost and easy to use technologies will be key to making this revolution happen in the coming years.

In the short term, the UK is staring down the worst set of circumstances since the financial crash of 2008. But if government inaction and industry stagnation lead to an era when people are more conscious of their own collective power for social change, the twenties might roar at last.

About the author: Matt Hay is the founder and CEO of Bulbshare, a company on a mission to solve the world’s biggest social and commercial problems through the power of community collaboration.

This article was first published by Finance Monthly in February 2022. 

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