UK Launches New Blueprint for Renewables

The UK government has set out a national renewable energy blueprint designed to slash carbon emissions and reduce dependency on oil and gas. UK Business Secretary John Hutton outlined the proposals that are likely to include up to a third of electricity coming from renewable sources as well as significant increases in the use of renewable forms of heat and transport fuels last week. The blueprint is designed to help meet the UK’s anticipated 15% renewable energy target by 2020, an increase of 1000% on current levels.

Speaking at the government’s Low Carbon Economy Summit in London, Hutton said of the proposals: “We must make the most rapid progress possible to becoming a cleaner, greener economy. This vast expansion of renewable energy marks an important moment in this journey and, alongside our plans for new nuclear and clean coal, will play a crucial role in tackling climate change and reducing our dependency on oil and gas.”

The proposals are described in a new Renewable Energy Strategy consultation document and include plans to extend and raise the level of the Renewables Obligation to encourage 30% – 35% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. The measures also propose the introduction of a new financial incentive mechanism to encourage a very large increase in renewable heat, including in homes and other buildings, and extending more effective financial support for heat and electricity microgeneration technologies, potentially through a feed-in tariff.

Other proposals include ensuring appropriate incentives for new electricity grid infrastructure and removing access to the transmission grid as a barrier to renewable deployment; exploiting the full potential of energy from waste by considering further restrictions on landfilling biomass, as far as is practical; requiring all biofuels to meet strict sustainability criteria to limit adverse impacts on food prices, and other social and environmental concerns; and maximizing the benefits for UK business by providing a clear long-term policy framework.

The Renewables Advisory Board (RAB) welcomed the proposed renewable energy strategy saying that rapid development of a wide range of renewables is essential to the nation’s future energy strategy. “Strong political leadership will be required to implement the necessary policy changes within a very demanding timescale,” a statement from RAB said.

The government estimates that reaching the proposed EU target of 15% from renewables could reduce gas imports by between 12-16% in 2020, although it adds that, “there will be a need for significant investment in non-renewable back-up generation given the largely intermittent nature of renewable generation.”

The UK’s Renewable Energy Association also welcomed the breadth of the strategy document, saying that the the document goes beyond the usual focus on centralized electricity and recognizes the potential that renewables have in the areas of heat, transport, buildings and local generation.

According to REA Executive Director Philip Wolfe, “The industry has a very short space of time with which to meet challenging targets. There are still gaps and anomalies that need to be addressed with fresh polices. The key missing factor is a greater sense of urgency. We have only twelve years left and government still wants to use two of those talking about it.”

These concerns were echoed by Maria McCaffery, British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) chief executive who said, “Time is running out to take real action on climate change and to plug the UK’s looming energy gap — only swift action to unblock the planning regime and fix the grid will allow us to reach the targets on time.”

The developments follow a recent report from the RAB that found that the UK could generate 14% of its total energy from renewables by 2020 if a set of identified radical policy changes are put into effect quickly. With a further 1% remaining, the report sets out three possible options — including development of the Severn Barrage project, more offshore wind and the development of district heating networks — but stressed that delivery of each will present further challenges to meet the ambitious proposed target.

Alan Moore, co-chairman of RAB said, “If the 15% target is to be approached we need to establish a different energy world. Many of these changes will need to be radical and will require, above all else, political leadership and a determination to succeed.”


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David Appleyard is a contributing editor. Formerly Editor in Chief of Renewable Energy World and sister renewable energy magazines Wind Technology, Large Scale Solar and HRW - Hydro Review Worldwide, now a freelance journalist and photographer contributing to a wide range of on-line and print publications. David has some 20 years' experience of writing about the renewable energy sector and is based in Europe.

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