We must unite and diversify to meet renewable targets
Wind power alone cannot carry the burden of meeting renewable energy targets, was the resounding message at the Renewables in Action conference at Olympia, London, this week.
Representatives from the DTI, industry, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all recognised that the Government was relying too heavily on wind-generated power to lead the UK away from its unsustainable reliance on the carbon economy.
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, warned the Government would fail to meet its target of supplying 10% of the UK's power using renewable energy sources by 2010 if an effort was not made to diversify research and funding.
"The Government has put all its eggs in the windfarm basket and is facing massive failure if it does not seek to diversify," Mr Baker said. "Ministers must embrace all new technology."
He expressed his concerns that only around 3% of electricity currently came from sustainable power sources, and said it was vital for more focus to put upon tidal and solar power in particular.
The Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Environment and Transport, Tim Yeo, told delegates he agreed that wind had a part to play, but that the Government should not rely on it entirely, as sometimes wind farms could be environmentally wrong.
"It seems mad for an island not to have more offshore wind, hydro and wave power," he added.
However, Kristian Armstrong, director of energy innovation and business for the DTI, said it was wrong to say that the Government did not support the development of diverse renewable technologies:
"The Government's answer is a resounding 'yes' for diversity. The obligation to renewables is a powerful tool to bring these technologies forward."
A spokesman from the DTI also confirmed to edie that although there was a definite need to look towards developing alternative forms of renewable technologies and the Government was currently funding research projects, wind power was currently cheapest and closest to the market, making it the sensible option at this time.
While stressing the need for cross-party cooperation in order to succeed in meeting the impending targets, head of electricity supplies for Centrica Energy (formerly British Gas) Gearoid Lane backed up the Government's decision to concentrate on wind power.
"Other technologies than wind are vital to the future, but onshore and offshore wind must bear the brunt of the 2010 targets, whichever government is in power," Mr Lane stated. "A policy change now would not allow enough time for other renewable technologies to make a big contribution to our immediate 10% goal."
But claims that wind power was the only viable option for opening up the renewables market could not be used as an excuse not to develop other technologies when so much was at stake, as an industry insider pointed out at the conference when he predicted high risks for a blackout this winter.
Moreover, Greenpeace highlighted the lack of scale and urgency in the Government's current energy policies by quoting figures from a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report. It emerged that at least 160,000 people die every year directly because of climate-related impact.
"Renewable energy is offering us a hand out of the devastation of climate change," Mr Baker concluded. "It's time the Government reached for it."
By Jane Kettle