The refreshingly short Queen's Speech points to a set of bills with the real details of the government's plans, says Michael Kenward
Each year, Her Majesty the Queen launches the new parliamentary session in the UK by reading out a speech penned in Number 10 Downing Street. As much as anything, the speech is an opportunity for a bit of a punch-up in Parliament, with parties of all hue taking an opportunity to throw around insults. Being the last before a general election, this year?s post-speech ?debates? were especially peevish.
This year?s Queen?s Speech, in the middle of November was, at just over 700 words, notably brief. However, the speech is just a cue for government departments to launch their own policy documents for parliament to consider. Innovation, for example, or areas where it is a recognisable factor, appeared only briefly in the speech itself. ?My government will introduce a bill to ensure the communications infrastructure is fit for the digital age, supports future economic growth, delivers competitive communications and enhances public service broadcasting. ?Legislation will be brought forward to support carbon capture and storage and to help more of the most vulnerable households with their energy bills.
?My government will respond to proposals for high-speed rail services between London and Scotland.
?Legislation will be introduced to protect communities from flooding and to improve the management of water supplies.?
These few sentences masked much more detail in the bills that appeared at the same time. While some of the bills will do little for technology ? the Energy Bill, for example, also deals with the cost of energy to poorer people ? they are all, to different degrees, amenable to, and could help to drive, innovation. Just about everything in the innovation section of the speech boils down to climate change in one shape or another. It could exacerbate flooding. Trains are a ?carbon lite? way of travelling. And a decent communications infrastructure can reduce the need to travel.
The biggest catalyst for innovation, though, is probably in the energy bill. As well as prices, it will also deal with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The idea that we can grab carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere and squirrel it away somewhere is a non-starter without massive innovation to improve performance and cut costs.
In its follow up to the Queen?s Speech, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said that the idea of the proposed energy bill is to put the UK ?at the forefront of developing CCS technology?. There will be support for ?up to four commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects in the UK?. Likewise there will be support for clean coal technologies which could, if successful, ?bring between £2-4bn a year into the UK economy by 2030?.
The US Department of Energy (DOE), whose budgets would frighten any smaller country, also plans to support CCS and clean coal. A new DOE database shows that getting on for 200 CCS projects are in the pipeline. The US itself supports dozens of CCS projects.
Fortunately, the market for clean technologies promises to be so big that there will be buyers for innovative ideas.
Governments in the UK have talked about backing carbon capture for years. The technology features in its recent set of policy statements on nuclear power and other energy technologies. The plan is to ?demonstrate CCS from 2014?. Perhaps this new bill will finally lead to some innovative hardware by then.
Added the 01 December 2009 in category Innovation blog