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Renewable Energy

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 8 February 2001

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What proportion of the United Kingdom energy requirement is met from renewable sources at the present time and what they expect will be met from renewables other than wind power five years hence.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, in terms of UK electricity requirements, 2.8 per cent of present requirements are from renewable sources. The Government have proposed targets of obtaining 5 per cent of UK electricity requirements from renewable sources by the end of 2003 and 10 per cent by 2010, subject to the cost being acceptable to consumers.

In the Government's 1999 consultation paper on renewable energy there were some illustrative scenarios of the different ways in which the various forms of renewable energy might contribute to a 10 per cent target by 2010. The "trends continued" scenario, for example, showed biofuels contributing just over half the target and wind energy contributing about 35 per cent, with about one-third of that offshore. The balance between the various forms of renewable energy will be determined by the market, and individual projects will be subject to the normal planning process.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will there be continued monitoring of the various sources of renewables to determine whether they are meeting the contributions to which he referred? Will there be further consideration of the need for the development of wave power and of the adequacy of processing capacity for biomass? Although I greatly welcome the decision to promote the use of methane from landfill sites, can a similar facility be provided to promote the use of this highly noxious gas from closed collieries?

My Lords, there will be continued monitoring of the different sources of renewable energy. It is the Government's policy to encourage diversity in the renewable energy sector. The renewables obligation provides a long-term stimulus to the renewable energy sector as a whole. We provide support to such areas as wave energy and photovoltaics, which we do not see in the short term as likely sources of renewable energy on a commercial scale. We are supporting biomass with £89 million of capital grants, which also support offshore wind technology, because these processes are currently very expensive. So far as concerns methane from coalmines (mine gas), we are examining possible methods for the capture and use of the gas, although mine gas is classified as a fossil fuel rather than a renewable source of energy.

My Lords, in order to meet these objectives, which I strongly recommend to the entire country, would it not be logical for Her Majesty's Government to give biodiesel the same duty rate as fossil gas fuel?

My Lords, last November the Chancellor announced a green fuel challenge to industry; it was asked to submit practical proposals for new alternative road fuels. The idea was to introduce fiscal incentives for fuels offering the most promising environmental benefits. I believe that a whole series of proposals have been put forward for a wide range of novel fuels, including biodiesel. The DETR is now examining the environmental benefits of the different fuels. Any changes will be announced in the Budget.

My Lords, is reusable energy included in the list of renewables? I refer in particular to the great waste of energy from ordinary domestic chimneys. By the use of a new heat exchange mechanism, this could be recycled for domestic use. I refer also to combined heat and power schemes. Does either of these come under the heading of "renewable resources", or are they outwith it?

My Lords, I do not think that they are included in the actual target for renewables. However, there are schemes to encourage combined heat and power in their own right.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some 30 per cent of Denmark's energy requirements are met by wind power, and that it has now developed 5 megawatt offshore wind turbines, which have the advantage of being able to be located a long way offshore and are thus less visible? Are such schemes part of my noble friend's programme? What support will the Government provide to get such projects off the ground? I refer to planning permission and to the financial support that is required in the early years.

My Lords, the figures I gave to illustrate how the pattern might change are of interest in this context. Fifty-two per cent of our current use of renewables comes from hydro power, 39 per cent comes from biofuels of one kind or another, and 9 per cent comes from wind. Based on the projection I gave, those figures would become 11 per cent from hydro, about 53 per from biofuels, and 36 per cent from wind. So the figures include a substantial increase in wind energy, a great deal of which will come from offshore wind. As I said, we are supporting this technology with capital grants. Part of the strategy is to use higher megawatt turbines; the 5 megawatt turbine would be part of that strategy.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to encourage the domestic use of solar panels? Is there any reason why the price of solar panels remains so high, creating such a disincentive to their wider use?

My Lords, the price of solar panels is high because they remain extremely expensive to make. The cost of energy produced by them is some five to seven times higher than conventional electricity, but there are plans to examine whether we can do more to increase their installation.

My Lords, will my noble friend expand a little further on research into wave energy? I have an interest in this, as my son was part of the team helping Professor Stephen Salter in Edinburgh with the "nodding ducks". That research ended, but there is still great interest in this.

My Lords, we do not see wave energy making a substantial contribution to our renewable needs in the short term. However, the Government are supporting the demonstration of wave energy projects, including the Limpet plant on the Hebridean island of Islay; but that will not contribute between the years 2003 and 2010.

My Lords, has there been much progress recently in the use of fuel cell technology, and is that included in the list of renewables?

My Lords, it is certainly included, and there has been progress. However, this technology is still some way off in terms of producing a substantial amount of renewable energy.