The Government has outlined plans for an energy revolution aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020, setting the UK on track for an 80% cut by 2050. It signalled an historic switch away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and nuclear power. 30% of UK electricity will be supplied by renewable sources with a further 10% coming from nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and storage. But only 2 of the 30% will be from small-scale renewables. Yet in Europe the European Photovoltaic Industry Association expects 12% of all electricity to be provided by photovoltaics alone by 2020 – enough to wipe out any need for new nuclear or coal.
Paul Golby, Chief Executive of EoN described the plan as a framework designed to enable energy companies to build 12 new nuclear power stations, four new coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage and 26GW of offshore wind. So, whilst the plan is ambitious in terms of the growth of wind – offshore and onshore – its ambitions for microgeneration are a serious disappointment and delays in implementing a comprehensive domestic energy efficiency programme are inexcusable. The plan seems designed to make space for new reactors, rather than move Britain to a low carbon, decentralised energy system.
Local authorities called for an increased role in providing the Government’s energy efficiency strategy. The Local Government Association (LGA) for England and Wales said there are too many different schemes aimed at cutting household emissions. These should be merged into a single £7 billion fund to allow councils to embark on a more cost-effective programme. Councils want to build on the example of Kirklees Council which has offered to insulate every house in its area for free. If a similar council led scheme was expanded across the country, it would save £2 billion on current plans to put basic insulation into every home.
The Government says it will explore how to unlock greater action by local authorities in identifying the best potential for low carbon communities. Chair of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Dundee Councillor George Regan said “Local Authorities have a crucial role to play in the local energy revolution and are keen to get on with implementing it. Yet in 2003 we were promised a step change in energy efficiency by the UK Government – and we are still waiting. We cannot afford to wait another six years while the Government ‘facilitates new nuclear reactors’ and tries to work out how to unlock greater action by local authorities.”
According to Building Magazine, the plans for small-scale renewables will release less than one-third of the industry’s potential capacity. Research by the Energy Saving Trust shows that microgeneration could provide around 30-40% of UK electricity needs by 2050. So we ought to be expecting a much larger contribution than 2% by 2020.
Jeremy Leggett says the proposed feed-in tariffs are insufficient to deliver the kind of rapid growth experienced by the solar energy sector under similar feed-in tariff schemes across Europe. Solar Century says it will continue to focus its expansion plans on the continent, where the European Photovoltaic Industry Association expects PV to provide 12% of all electricity by 2020 – compared with the 2% the UK Government expects all microgeneration to provide.
The heating industry, too, expressed concern the Government is not moving fast enough on some issues such as renewable biogas and the Renewable Heat Incentive. A report by National Grid showed the huge potential for green gas injection into the gas grid which could supply nearly half of domestic users. There is no technical reason to delay introducing a tariff for green gas. Neil Schofield, head of sustainable development at Worcester Bosch accused the Government of being too focused on electricity while heating policy seemed to be “fixated” on biomass.
The Solar Trade Association (STA) attacked the Renewable Energy Strategy’s claims that solar heat may deliver less of a contribution to the UK’s renewable heat than was envisaged in last year’s consultation on the strategy. In particular, the STA claimed the basis for the modelling of the UK’s future supply of renewable heat, and the part that solar thermal can play in this, is a report that has been “totally discredited” by the solar thermal industry. The STA said “not only do we have to wait until 2011 until we have a renewable heat incentive in place to drive the uptake of this technology, but also the huge potential of solar technology is being undermined by questionable research and poor advice.”
The Combined Heat and Power Association warned that a truly comprehensive strategy will only be achieved once energy conservation and low-carbon heat supply are given the same attention as the production of electricity. Heating our homes accounts for a massive 20% of CO2 emissions, whilst the heat consumed in industry emits an additional 20%. There is very little mention of CHP in the Low Carbon Transition Plan – it looks as though we will have to wait until the autumn when the Government is expected to publish a Heat and Energy Saving Strategy before we find out if it has any new plans. This is a significant omission given the recent report by Pöyry Energy Consulting which showed that industries across the UK could generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power stations and halve gas imports by installing or extending CHP plants. Poyry found nine sites where CHP could be applied or extended. Currently 5.5GW of electricity is produced by CHP plants, but Poyry suggests there could be up to 16GW more.
In the early 1980s, consultants McKinsey completed a study for a US telecoms company predicting there would be fewer than one million wireless subscribers in the US by the turn of the century. Today, nearly 2.5bn subscribers across the globe are using digital wireless technologies for voice, email, internet access, music and video services. Several commentators believe that microgeneration has the potential to forge a ‘local energy revolution’. For example Vijay Vaitheeswaran of The Economist talks about a “change in the energy business every bit as dramatic as the revolution that hit the world’s telecommunications industry in the 1980”. Amory Lovins of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Institute says: “Micropower plus negawatts [basically energy efficiency] probably now provide the majority of the world’s new electrical services; central power stations provide less than half, because they cost too much.”
The Government seems to basing its plans and predictions on the status quo – clearly a failed policy as far as the telecommunications industry was concerned – but then, where nuclear power is concerned, governments seem unable to learn from experience. Time we joined the local energy revolution.