Australia’s new chief clean energy lobbyist

David Green faces several challenges as the new head of the Clean Energy Council, but he is well equipped to deal with them.

Yesterday Climate Spectator reported on the appointment of David Green as CEO of Clean Energy Council, Australia’s industry association for renewable energy, energy efficiency and distributed energy sector. Green was formerly chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Business Council for Sustainable Energy (UK BCSE), which represented a number of large energy companies interested in progressive policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, grow the renewable energy sector and promote energy efficiency.

Having worked in the Australian sister organisation to the UK’s BCSE I’ve managed to learn a little about David Green over the years. In short, he is extremely well qualified for the role of CEO of the Clean Energy Council and I suspect will serve the membership well, irrespective of the technology camp from which they hail. 

While Green’s experience is heavily weighted to the politics and economics of the United Kingdom, he is reasonably well equipped to hit the road running in Australia. He has been a regular visitor to Australia, and has provided periodic advice to the Victorian state government on carbon emission reduction policy. He has also had Australian staff work for him at the UK BCSE in the past, including Russell Marsh, current general manager of policy at the Clean Energy Council, and Megan Wheatley, from RE Power/Suzlon in Australia. These experiences have provided him with an appreciation of the Australian policy and market landscape.

There are important similarities between Australia and the UK in terms of how we have structured our electricity markets and the use of market-based mechanisms to support carbon abatement, renewable energy and energy efficiency. My own brief exchanges with him indicated a good appreciation of Australian politics and policy issues.

Green can also receive valuable advice from his wife, who used to be a board member at UK’s chief energy market regulator – OFGEM. Australia’s own energy regulatory institutions could learn a great deal from OFGEM on how to better accommodate demand-side solutions and efficiently regulate electricity networks. In light of this, as well as his own experience representing distributed generation interests, he is well positioned to share what has been learnt in the UK.  

Also Green’s background as a leading advocate for carbon capture and storage in the UK is an important asset that will help in advocacy for renewables. This may be contrary to the thinking of many within the clean energy sector. It will however, buy credibility with a range of key people that Green needs to influence. The renewables sector has little to fear from CCS, now that the cold hard reality of implementing real projects has exposed the PR spin about it being a quick and cheap fix.  

Of course Australia is still quite different to the UK, and one should not underestimate the scale of the challenges that Green confronts.

The politics around climate change in Australia is rapidly devolving into something approaching the culture wars where emotion is beginning to dominate over reason, and the middle ground is receding. This is very different to the UK where all three major political parties have formed a consensus around the high importance of reducing carbon emissions. They have also formed a consensus that this should be done through a combination of a price on carbon, support for low emission technologies via mandated targets and feed-in tariffs, as well as a combination of mandates and incentives for improved energy efficiency. 

Another major difference is that the Clean Energy Council is made up of several hundred members of assorted shapes and sizes, representing a very diverse set of technologies. The UK BCSE on the other hand involved only a small number of universally large energy companies with reasonably sophisticated understanding of government relations. It requires tremendous energy, diplomacy skills and thick skin in order to maintain membership unity within the Clean Energy Council.

When I worked for the organisation I recall being accused of being a stooge for a particular company or technology every week by a member – and it was a different technology and company each time!  Green will face a steep learning curve in this respect. However he will also have a number of friends and quality staff familiar with the assorted parts of the membership to advise him.

David Green has a tough task ahead of him. The key to success will lie in whether member companies work with him, rather than squabble amongst themselves.