A prime minister gets smart about energy planning


Here is a transcript of an imagined meeting at the office of a Prime Minister and CC, a person with a reputation for successful project delivery.

PM I have a special mission for you.  We want you to carry out an investigation into how the Government should make decisions for energy policy.  Have a look at this report by Scottish Engineers – ref.  They propose that an overarching National Energy Authority should be created for the UK.  They do not lay it on the line, but implicit in what they write is that we have too many separate groups giving advice. The report does not go into detail as to how a National Authority should be constituted but it does put forward ideas about how it might operate.

Before I go into details, I want to make it clear that we want you to give unbiased recommendations.  We seek to ensure that what we get from our advisers is as close to the truth as can be achieved. That is certainly what we want from you.

We envisage actions as follows but we may have missed some issues:

    • Make a survey of all the bodies on whom we rely to help us to formulate energy policy. Look at the range of competence .
    • Investigate the history of the development of energy policy and governance in the UK. For example, the Scottish report states that the 1926 Electricity Act led to a very successful planning of the system. Eventually the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was formed that was not popular with some people. You should investigate the performance of CEGB.  The Scottish Report shows that under central planning the cost of electricity in real terms between 1925 and 1960 reduced by a factor of 3.5.  That calculation should be checked. I understand that the management papers of the CEGB are not available in the public domain.  They need to be reviewed (We will arrange for them to be made available to you).
    • Survey how other countries manage their energy policy.  Norway, Sweden and France should be interesting – and the EU.  I understand that the regulatory framework for electricity in North America is stricter than ours.
    • Assess the potential for a market approach as against a planned approach for achieving the aims of our energy policy.  We may need to think the unthinkable and, for example, admit that the privatisation of energy in 1990 is not compatible with the present situation because a crucial objective has been added – the need to reduce emissions.
    • Make a proposal as to how we should proceed with energy planning.

You should form a small core team to manage the work and hire consultants as needed to carry out the investigations.  We have not decided on a budget for the study that we want you to undertake. This is so important that you should not skimp on resources for it.

In the past we tended to call for evidence on energy isues from the public before doing our own analysis. That was the wrong order of events. This time your report and the supporting documents will be made available to the public and we will ask for comments on that – before we take action.

I emphasise that you are not to make recommendations about, for example, how much renewable energy we should aim for.  We want to be advised on how answers to such questions should be formulated. What organisational structure should be put in place? What should the competence of those involved? What should be the ethos under which it will operate?

Good luck!


The prime minister used good problem solving principles :

First, by recognising that it is essential to appoint a person who has the necessary attributes and has assign responsibility and authority to carry out the task – see my previous blog and this paper.
Second, by not wanting CC to jump to a conclusion. All aspects of the problem are expected to be investigated.
Third, by having an open mind.  Confirmation bias is not wanted. Truth is needed even if it hurts.
Fourth, by being prepared ‘think the unthinkable’ and admit to mistakes.

These are some of the principles that should be adopted when formulating government policy for energy – and indeed for any government policy.

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