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Alternative agenda

Renewable energy Government view

Energy minister Brian Wilson has ambitions to make renewable energy commercially competitive by 2010. Here he sets out the government's strategy.

On our doorstep, we have an enormous challenge facing us.

This is the development and promotion of renewable energy sources in the UK.

Renewable energy has a crucial role to play in meeting our Kyoto protocol target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2010.

The government has begun to put in place a range of measures which have culminated in the provision of a good framework to kick-start this significant energy generation industry.

We now have a framework that will help us to meet our challenging target of securing 10% of electricity sales from eligible renewable sources by 2010. The 25-year Renewables Obligation and the Scottish Renewables Obligation came into force on 1 April this year and are the single most important measures underpinning our renewables strategy.

Both obligations require electricity suppliers in England, Wales and Scotland to source a rising proportion of their sales from eligible renewable sources, from 3% to 10.4% by 2010.

The government has put up nearly £250M for capital grants and £19M a year for research and development of the most promising renewable energy technologies. This is on top of the substantial support that will come from the new Renewables Obligation.

To ensure we meet this challenging target, other key steps have been taken for the expansion of renewable energy technologies throughout the UK, including:

lExemption of renewables from the Climate Change Levy.

lExisting Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) contracts have been protected and new flexibility on location has been introduced. This will allow 100 or so projects to proceed which had run into planning difficulties at their original sites.

lOngoing regional studies to assess the potential for renewables, leading to the development of regional targets to underpin the 10% national target.

We are looking to achieve the 10% renewables target through a wide range of technologies.

Some are already well developed commercially - hydro, landfill gas and onshore wind energy, for instance. Others, such as offshore wind and energy crops, have reached the commercial demonstration stage. With wave power and tidal stream, we need further research before largescale commercial deployment is possible. At this early stage, we are working hard to support companies and universities researching wave energy in particular, in the hope that its enormous potential may later prove to be a useful and commercial source of energy for us.

It is through this requirement, under the Renewables Obligation, that a supply and demand chain for renewable energy has already been kick started in the UK. The Department of Trade & Industry is focusing on reducing the costs of the various renewable technologies.

I would like to see the costs of renewable energy technologies brought down towards commercially competitive levels. With success in this area, the UK will be well placed to respond to a growth in demand for green energy. I expect that demand for renewable energy will grow steadily and I believe people's attitudes to environmental issues generally are shifting.

The renewables industry is in a similar situation to the oil and gas industry some decades ago.

Then the UK's civil engineering fraternity demonstrated their ability to organise, plan and help establish a world-class capability for taking forward an embryonic oil and gas industry. For civil engineers today, the renewables sector presents a very similar opportunity. An energetic commitment and fluent vision to take forward this industry is now required to translate this vast opportunity into a highly effective, prosperous sector.

I recently set up Renewables UK, whose role is to create jobs and bring forward investment in renewables in the UK. It is now a matter of urgency for the UK to expand its renewables manufacturing base by making the industry aware of opportunities.

As a result of the government's focus on renewables and a challenging target being set for the UK, there is much scope for civil engineers to help take these plans forward and turn them into reality. Many of us have already noticed the increasing use of renewable sources around the world. This indicates to me the growing recognition of the contribution renewables can make to today's energy driven lifestyle.

Opportunities in this field will emerge from not only the UK but the world over. This is the right time to take stock of our skills and be ready to take the openings that may come our way, within the UK and globally.

Through the government's legislative measures the foundations for a thriving renewable energy industry in the UK are now in place. In this quest of ours to nurture, strengthen and expand the growth of renewable energy technologies, we are making a positive difference - for the environment, for our future energy needs and towards meeting the targets laid down in the Kyoto Protocol.

INFOPLUS www. dti. gov. uk/energy/ renewables

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