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Debate Renewable energy

Renewable energy sources provide less than 2% of UK electricity. The sector is growing but renewables must make giant strides to meet the Government's target of 10% electricity from 'green' sources by 2010.

This week we ask:

Are renewables capable of meeting the Government's target of 10% UK energy by 2010?

Yes

The Department of Trade & Industry's 'high wind' scenario under the 10% target for 2010 sees supply coming 20% from existing renewables, 13% landfill gas, 13% waste, 5% energy crops, 26% onshore wind, 18% offshore wind, 5% other biomass and hydro schemes.

The onshore wind element is 2,515 turbines of the size currently being built in the UK (1.5MW). Germany has built around 3,000MW of onshore wind capacity over the past two years. UK wind targets are therefore possible.

Acceptable locations for windfarms do exist - twice as much wind capacity was built in 2000 as in 1999. The new obligation on suppliers will mean that developers will actively seek public support for preferred locations. Increasingly, people recognise not only that the many myths about renewables do not hold true, but if they want the lights to stay on after all bar one nuclear plants is shut down by 2025, we need to build new generating capacity now.

But it is not just onshore wind.

Biomass schemes (carbon neutral as crops absorb CO 2while growing) represent a promising income stream for farmers. Harnessing landfill gas is eminently sensible, the need to manage waste is clear, the first offshore turbines were commissioned last month and now supply 3,000 households. Encouraging research in wave power, photovoltaics and others is a tiny investment with enormous potential.

Remember that the Government spent £24bn on nuclear R&D between 1980 and 2000, which has peaked at a third of UK electricity. Shell predicts 50% from renewables worldwide by 2050.

The grid is designed to and does cope with massive faults on the transmission system. The grid changes as conventional plant is replaced with renewables - which, being 'embedded', actually reinforce the grid they feed into. Ironically, the bad weather of recent months saw turbines produce 50% more power than in a normal winter.

There is no shortage of resource - offshore wind alone could meet the UK's entire demand for electricity three times over. The challenge will be in changing the attitudes of those of those who want it the way it was in the glory days of nuclear, when we were promised it would be 'too cheap to meter'.

No

The Government's target of generating 10% of our electricity from renewable energy by 2010 is a cynical fantasy out of 'Yes, Minister'. It may be impossible, but so what? Labour won't be around to handle the consequences.

Department for Trade & Industry figures show renewables produced the energy equivalent of 2.66M. t of oil in 1998 - 1.7% of total UK energy consumption. Nearly 80% of this came from biofuels - landfill and sewage gas, and wood, straw and refuse burning. This may be 'renewable' but it is not clean, and so no answer to global warming. Another 16% came from large scale hydro and the remaining 4% from wind, solar and small scale hydro.

But only 55% of renewable energy, including large scale hydro, went into generating electricity. So it accounted for only 2.5% of UK power in 1998. This means that in nine years we have to quadruple the renewables contribution to achieve the Government's target.

It might just be achievable if we were immediately to swamp a lot more valleys under hydroelectric schemes and build a Severn barrage. But hydro is near saturation point and where is the irresistible scheme for a barrage?

That leaves the winds, waves and those so far infinitesimal contributors - solar and hot rocks. Tam Dalyell MP has put the Isle of Islay wave power experiment in perspective: 'Are we really supposed to be impressed by a device that cost £1.5M and succeeds in producing only enough electricity to run 25 domestic fires?'

The Government is thus relying, appropriately you may think, on wind, currently producing 0.25% of our electricity from some 750 turbines. To secure the Government's target we shall need to erect up to 30,000 turbines the height of Big Ben over the next nine years.

That is nearly ten a day every day. But most people object to having their hill country and seascapes visually destroyed.

And for what? Utterly unreliable supplies because turbines do not generate when the wind does not blow, nor when it blows a gale because they have to be shut down.

The facts

The Government wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% on 1990 levels by 2010.

The 1992 Non Fossil Fuel Obligation Orders for the UK, guarantee a fixed premium price for renewable energy supplied to the grid.

Total UK generating capacity is 70,500MW.

Less than a quarter of proposed NFFO schemes went ahead last year due to planning and commercial difficulties.

The unit price paid under NFFO contracts has been reduced.

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