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Reality check: G20

31 March 2009
Reality check: G20

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

The last paragraph of the leaked G20 draft communique mentions the challenge of climate change. Interesting given that the amount of money from the stimulus in the US that is being given to the Department of Energy made news in the Economist, as "Energiser Money."

It is widely recognised (see HSBC report) that the Economic stimulus packages globally are giving vastly different emphasis to 'green' issues. But most countries are recognising the link between sustainability and economic recovery.

This is particularly apparent in the US energy budget, which is 18% higher than 2008, and that $7.8 bn budget is more than doubled by the $8 bn earmarked in the stimulus package. But in spite of the extra cash, the aim to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 is unprecedented, and Steven Chu and others in charge of delivering a massive shift in energy production have their work cut out for them.

Where does smart grid fit into all this? In the US, up to $30 billion will go into energy efficiency, including smart grids, and advanced battery technology. An Apollo Jobs Report states that for an investment of $2 billion over 10 years in smart grid, GDP gain would be $200 billion and create 441,473 jobs. In other words, every $1 bn of investment creates 200,000+ jobs, which far outpaces investment in road construction or green buildings, according to the report. Not to say we shouldn't invest in those as well!

Smart grid is as much about energy efficiency as it is about new generation (see Wired article), which makes it crucial for short term emissions reductions and long term targets. I would advocate smart grid for those reasons, rather than putting all my eggs in the 'new technologies' basket, as entrepreneurs like Vinod Khosla are doing when they call for new technologies, rather than policies to limit energy consumption.

The G20 has to demonstrate it is 'sorting out' the economy, but it can't be done at the expense of green investment.

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