Trust in energy companies has fallen to near-rock bottom. Why?

  • 21 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

The UK's energy industry is in trouble with the public. The reasons seem pretty simple: energy prices continue to skyrocket, while  media reports claim profits are skyrocketing. So what can polling tell us about trust in the energy industry - and how could the companies that provide our heat and light regain it? 

Low trust 

According to the most recent polling, trust in the industry has fallen significantly over the past year according to consultancy Edelman's  Trust Barometer 2014 - a  six percentage point drop on last year. Just 32 per cent of people said they trusted the energy industry, putting it in last place behind the banking sector.  The survey, out today, asked respondents which groups in society they trusted most, and what attributes are key to driving that trust. It showed that in an environment where trust in business is increasing - and trust in government is falling - the energy sector is bucking the trend, falling far behind other groups and industries.

The result is hardly surprising: following the announcement of  price rises almost across the board last year, politicians and the media have accused the UK's 'big six' energy companies of a lack of transparency, and even profiteering. Labour judged the mood of the country well when it announced it would freeze energy bills for a limited time if it got into office - and ensured the story  hasn't left the news since.

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Do we need new laws on shale gas?

  • 21 Jan 2014, 14:30
  • Robin Webster

The UK doesn't need any new laws to go all out for shale gas, according to Prime Minister David Cameron. Is he right - and what do the rules governing fracking really look like in this country?  

The ability to extract shale gas has lowered gas prices and increased energy security in the USA. But it's also prompted controversy. Fracking has led to  air and water pollution,  water shortages and posed a threat to  human health, environmentalists argue. 

The  Royal Society suggested in 2011 that the impacts are manageable - but only under a strong regulatory system. The government says  no new laws are needed to make the shale gas industry safe, however. 

So where does this leave us? A Guardian editorial says it means worried communities will have to rely on "  trust" in the oil and gas industry and regulatory bodies to get it right. Others disagree, however, arguing the UK's system is strong enough as it is. 


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Could renewable energy trading solve the EU’s 2030 ambition problem?

  • 20 Jan 2014, 16:30
  • Ros Donald

High gas prices and crippling economic problems have left European countries unwilling to renew binding requirements to increase renewable energy generation in 2020. But critics say the likely alternative - an overall target with no country-specific requirements - offers no incentive for countries to up their game. Could a platform for trading renewable-sourced energy rekindle member states' enthusiasm for country-level targets?

Mapping 2030

EU-wide renewables targets come under its 2020 package of climate and energy pledges. Member states have agreed to a 20 per cent reduction in emissions on 1990 levels, a 20 per cent increase in the amount of energy generated by renewables (split up on a country-by-country basis), and a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency - all by 2020.

Policymakers have committed to extending the measures to 2030 by the end of next year. On Wednesday, the commission will  announce its agreed combination of targets with a new white paper. And although this is expected to include a binding promise to reduce emissions by  40 per cent, another binding, country-level renewables target looks less likely.

While countries like Germany and Denmark want to see the target extended, the UK and Poland argue renewables shouldn't be privileged over other low carbon technologies such as nuclear power.

Current energy trends are working against those who want to see a 2030 target. For example, reporting after an EU energy conference, Channel 4 news anchor  Jon Snow recounts country delegates' enthusiasm for developing nuclear power, shale gas and even highly-polluting coal in response to rising gas prices in the EU - and equal appetite for scrapping renewable energy targets.

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Government ignores own evidence to promote shale gas push

  • 20 Jan 2014, 13:45
  • Mat Hope

The government claims that developing a UK shale gas industry could mean millions of pounds and thousands of jobs soon heading to a community near you. But a closer look at the evidence suggests the situation is not so clear cut.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last week  told MPs he "really, really" wanted to get a UK shale gas industry up and running. He's certainly been busy promoting its prospects with some impressive numbers: The government claims communities could get a  £10 million financial reward for permitting fracking, with the industry supporting 74,000 jobs.

Critics have accused the government of  overstating shale gas's case, however. They point to the government's own research which suggests a considerably less bountiful future than the prime minister claims.

Community benefits

The government is keen to get the public on board with its fracking vision. To help things along, it is set to offer communities £100,000 for each shale gas well drilled in their area, along with 1 per cent of its subsequent revenue. The government says the deal could be worth  up to £10 million per site.

The  Daily Telegraph revealed the government's own research suggests the benefits could be considerably less than this, however. It says a government  report, researched by engineering consultancy AMEC, suggests the financial reward is likely to be between £2.4 to £4.8 million.

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European battle over 2030 energy system drawing to a close

  • 17 Jan 2014, 15:45
  • Robin Webster

New European energy policy goals may include an overarching target for expansion of renewable energy, according to reports. The UK has been lobbying against a binding target, which it argues will interfere with plans to build new nuclear power plants instead of wind, solar or biomass.  

Back in 2007, European Union (EU) leaders agreed to bump up the continent's supply of clean energy, obtaining 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020. At the time, the UK only sourced about  two per cent of its energy from renewables. The legally binding commitment has profoundly affected UK energy policy, leading it to create a  roadmap to the target. 

Now, EU states must agree an energy package for 2030. Three possible 2030 targets are up for grabs: one for emissions reductions, one for expansion of renewable power and one for energy efficiency. We take a look at what's likely to emerge when the European Commission unveils the details of an agreed package next week. 


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No shortage of energy as emissions rise: BP

  • 15 Jan 2014, 17:45
  • Robin Webster

Source: Arnold Paul

We're all going to have access to lots of energy over the next couple of decades, predicts BP. There's just one snag: greenhouse gas emissions are set to keep rising. 

The world's population is growing by 200,000 people a day, according to the World Bank, and is predicted to top  eight billion by 2030. That's a lot of people in need of an energy supply to light and heat their homes, cook food, and get about. 

Energy company BP says supplying the energy isn't going to be a problem, however. As the world increasingly turns to unconventional fossil fuel sources like shale gas and oil under the sea, there's going to be plenty of energy to go round, it predicts. 

But continued reliance on cheap - and plentiful - fossil fuels means the world the world's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by nearly a third by 2035.

Thinking two decades ahead 

BP's predictions are contained in its latest annual '  Energy Outlook' report. It has updated last year's report so that it now looks another five years ahead to 2035. 

BP says its report describes just one '  most likely' prediction of what the global energy system might look like in the future. Because the report doesn't explore other scenarios, the prediction should carry a health warning - as there's a lot of unknowns in predictions about future economic growth, changing populations and new technologies. 


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Behind 2013's energy bill headlines, in five charts

  • 15 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: W Warby

Towards the end of 2013, you could barely open a newspaper without reading about energy price hikes: the number of stories containing the words "household energy bills" doubled in 2013 compared to the previous year. We look back at some of the key themes behind the headlines.

Energy bills

Energy companies' decisions to raise prices once again in 2013 unleashed a torrent of media stories as politicians fell over themselves to propose market reforms.

From the end of October - when SSE announced the first price rise - to the end of the year, we found over 170 articles looking at household energy bills in six of the UK's most-read daily newspapers. That's more than four stories per day across the papers for two months, on average.

Media stories, energy price hikes bar chart

The Daily Telegraph was responsible for the largest share of the articles we found - publishing 45 energy bills stories across 41 days. The Times and Guardian were close behind, publishing 38 and 34 stories respectively. The Daily Mail published the fewest stories of all the papers we analysed: 17 articles.

But how were journalist filling such a wealth of column inches? We did a quick word search to try and find out.

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UK leads the charge against European Union shale gas regulation

  • 14 Jan 2014, 10:00
  • Robin Webster

The UK government may have successfully killed European Union plans for "muscular" legislation governing shale gas extraction. But with ministers leading the charge against new environmental regulation, can we be sure fracking for shale gas will be safe? 

Over the weekend, French oil company Total  announced plans to invest £35 million in the UK's shale gas industry. France has banned oil and gas companies from fracking for shale gas on environmental and safety grounds - but that's not the case over here. Prime Minister, David Cameron, said yesterday the country is "  going all out for shale" 

With fellow shale enthusiast, Poland, the UK has been lobbying against  proposed EU rules regulating shale gas extraction. It may have got its way, according to  reports - meaning that European countries can develop a new shale gas industry without specific environmental regulation being introduced. 


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New fracking incentives may not be enough to win communities’ support

  • 13 Jan 2014, 15:25
  • Mat Hope

The government is  eager to get the UK's shale gas industry going, and this morning announced improved financial incentives for local authorities willing to permit fracking. But local governments' initial responses are lukewarm.

The UK's fledgling shale gas industry has faced opposition from environmental campaigners and community groups in recent months. But Prime Minister, David Cameron, hopes the government's  latest community benefit plans will be enough to assuage fears about an industry he says is central to the government's "long term economic plan".

More money for communities

The government had already announced that communities are to benefit  financially from any shale gas wells in the local area. But it's not just Joe Public the government has to persuade: local councils have to sign off any plans before energy companies move in and start drilling. Today's announcement was designed to get the planners on board.

Cameron announced that local authorities would receive  100 per cent of the business rates - a tax levied on any non-domestic properties - from shale gas wells. Normally, the local council only receives 50 per cent, with the other half going to the treasury.

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European Commission president could sacrifice renewable energy target for personal legacy

  • 10 Jan 2014, 13:40
  • Mat Hope

Credit: MEDEF

Reports yesterday claimed the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, was thinking of  dropping plans to extend the EU's renewable energy target.

His words sparked a minor controversy, as they came the same day as two European Parliament committees  voted to keep the target. Not wishing to be left out,  eight European ministers also quickly fired off a letter to the commission, calling for it to extend the EU's renewable energy commitment.

So why are European policymakers squabbling over what was once seen as a landmark policy?

Member state interests

The EU's climate targets aren't set to expire until 2020, but policymakers have committed to extending them to 2030 by the end of next year.

Currently there are three targets: to reduce emissions, increase renewable energy generation, and implement energy efficiency. The EU's member states are divided over whether extending the renewable energy target is a good idea, however.

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