Energy Minister Brian Wilson has predicted that 2002 will be ‘the year of renewables’ in which the potential contribution of power generated from clean sources will finally be recognised in the UK.
Mr Wilson said that the government’s Renewables Obligation, which comes into effect on April 1st, will transform the market for alternative generation. The Obligation will require the electricity companies to purchase a proportion of power from renewable sources at a premium price.
At present, less than three per cent of electricity in the UK comes from renewables. The government is committed to a ten per cent target by 2010.
Mr Wilson revealed that regional targets are to be established through out the country to help ensure that reasonable expectations are set and monitored.
The government, said Mr Wilson, is investing £260 million in the development of renewable technologies over the next three years. In addition, the Renewables Obligation will guarantee at least a £750 million market for electricity generated from renewable sources by 2010.
A substantial part of the funding earmarked by government will be dedicated in the year ahead to deployment of the first generation of the UK’s off shore wind farms and energy crops power plants – two of the biggest potential growth areas.
‘The opportunity now exists for potentially viable projects to gain the support and access that they need,’ said Mr Wilson. ‘I want to support each of the renewable technologies to the point of establishing which of them have viable futures in the UK context.’
He warned, however, that it was pointless to set more ambitious targets that, in the short term, are not capable of being met. Mr Wilson said: ‘I certainly want to see us aiming higher than ten per cent in the years beyond 2010. However, the reality is that we are starting from a low base it will take a lot of commitment, not least by government itself, to reach the 10%.
Mr Wilson stressed that investment in infrastructure is going to be necessary if the full potential of renewables is to be realised. ‘We have inherited a distribution system which was built for a coal and steel economy,’ he said. ‘That has to be updated so as to strengthen the National Grid in those parts of the country which have the greatest potential in, for instance, wind and wave power.
‘The current feasibility study, commissioned by the DTI, into a sub-sea cable along the western seaboard of the UK is a major step in that direction.’
Mr Wilson stressed that renewables can become the basis of a substantial manufacturing sector. ‘It should never be forgotten that we had world leadership in wind power 20 years ago but did next to nothing with it. The Danes took a different view and now have a £4 billion per year manufacturing industry.’