'Home-made' energy will match output of five nuclear plants

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SOLAR panels and other small-scale home energy devices could save the same amount of carbon dioxide as taking all lorries and buses off UK roads within 12 years, according to a new report.
The research found that up to nine million gadgets, from wind turbines to solar panels, could be installed on homes by 2020, if new policies are put in place.

This would generate as much energy as five nuclear power stations. But the report said much greater policy support and financial incentives are needed to turn home energy devices, known as microgeneration, into a mass market.

Legally binding targets for the number of units installed could boost the industry, according to the independent report commissioned as part of the UK government's microgeneration strategy.

So far, there are almost 100,000 units which householders use to generate their own energy in the UK, most of which are solar panels, used to heat water.

This could rise to as many as nine million microgeneration units installed by 2020 if ambitious steps are taken, such as "feed-in tariffs" that pay consumers a set fee for the electricity they feed back into the grid.

Such incentives would be needed because currently consumers do not value the cheap power compared with the high installation costs of the technology, the research found.

The report by independent consultancy Element Energy, which comes ahead of a decision by ministers on whether to set a target for installation of small-scale energy sources in the UK, said targets backed by policy would encourage investors to develop the market.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks welcomed the report, called The Growth Potential for Microgeneration in England, Wales and Scotland, and said ministers would be considering its findings as part of the Renewable Energy Strategy.

"Microgeneration has the potential to make a significant contribution to overall energy use in the UK and, combined with energy efficiency measures, will help towards reducing our carbon emissions," he said.

"The concerned individual can take an active role in the battle against climate change."


THE key microgeneration types include:

  • SOLAR PANELS: Can provide about a third of a home's hot water.
  • WIND TURBINES: Free from emissions and waste products, they can either be free-standing next to a home or mounted on the roof.
  • GROUND-SOURCE HEAT PUMPS: A buried loop transfers heat from the ground into the home. The system does not require any fuel and can heat the whole building.
  • A typical system costs approximately £8,000 and can save up to £800 on annual heating bills.
  • BIOMASS BOILERS: These burn organic materials – such as wood chips – to produce energy. They release the same amount of that the wood absorbed while growing, making them carbon neutral.

In the wake of the report, industry and energy groups called for the setting of legally binding targets and strong policies to boost investment in the sector.

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, which is part of the consortium that commissioned the report, said: "We would urge government to set targets for microgeneration and put in place the right combination of policies to achieve these targets.

"We are now ready to work with government and industry to put in place a raft of measures to help achieve these targets and make the purchase of microgeneration a viable and desirable option for every household in the UK."

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, called on the UK government to amend its Energy Bill.

"We have long pushed for an enhanced role for household and community renewable power – not just to cut emissions, but to protect householders from rising energy bills," he said.

"The UK government should urgently amend the Energy Bill to provide incentives to allow those installing household renewables to sell energy to the grid for a fair price.

"The Scottish Government has increased capital funding for such technologies and introduced planning rules to require their use on most new homes."

Alan Duncan, shadow business secretary, said: "The government has been dithering around this issue for months, whereas microgeneration has been a central part of our energy policy for well over a year."

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