Blog: How UNISON is protecting jobs – and supporting innovation – in the energy sector

One of UNISON’s greatest strengths is our diversity. That includes our presence outside what some might consider our core public sector employers. A great example of that is the energy sector.

Our long-standing representation of energy workers is something I’ve always been passionate about, having once been the national negotiator for the electricity sector when it was in public hands. Energy is a core public service and as the biggest staff union in the sector we use our strength to influence the political and policy debates that define the future of the industry.

These debates focus on three key areas; how to ensure the lights are kept on and homes kept warm, how this is done at an affordable price and how we can achieve it with the least harm to the environment whilst fully meeting all environmental obligations.

Of course much of the debate focused on energy revolves around public ownership. We’ve always been clear and consistent on this, we believe that all public services are better off in public ownership, and that includes energy. The battle for public ownership is ongoing, but at the same time we have to answer the question of how – as a society – we manage to square off the environmental challenges we face.

We recognise that by some distance, the largest element of our domestic energy supply is gas. When gas is burnt it is adding to our greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to contribute seriously to any debate we need to ask – what is the alternative? And is it cohesive, affordable and achievable?

One answer is to convert the methane gas we use into hydrogen – because burnt hydrogen gas emits almost no greenhouse gas. The conversion of the UK’s gas network (which employs many UNISON members) to using hydrogen is feasible and in time it could use hydrogen gas produced from renewable energy.

That’s why UNISON has been leading the way in looking at this solution and the overall exciting potential of hydrogen gas. The recent launch of the hydrogen all-party parliamentary group (chaired by Anna Turley the Labour MP for Redcar) was a UNISON initiative and gives genuine cause for optimism.

It’s all well and good shouting from the sidelines but this is yet another demonstration of UNISON in action, not just defending members’ jobs but seeking genuine solutions to some of the biggest challenges we face as a society.