This is a challenging but achievable target. To meet the target, we will need to do three things:
- Continue to focus on energy efficiency, in part to limit total demand. As renewably sourced energy is likely to be more expensive, reducing demand will also help limit total energy bills. This is especially important for lower-income consumers, and - at the same time that electricity generation companies are moving into renewables - electricity, gas and heating oil distribution firms should be incentivised to expand insulation and other conservation schemes.
- Identify key renewable energy sectors to provide large scale electricity generation. Historically the UK Government has mainly relied on the market, with only limited intervention through support mechanisms such as the non fossil fuel order (NFFO). Although this has tended to produce least cost renewables, it has also resulted in rather a patchwork of technologies, with none achieving critical mass. In turn, this has allowed European competitors in countries such as Germany, Austria, Spain or Denmark build up strong positions in key renewable energy fields. A little more intervention may allow the UK to be a leader, rather than a follower, in offshore technologies2 (wind, wave and tidal stream). However, it should be cautious before attempting to impose mega-projects such as the Severn barrage in a desperate attempt to leap towards the 20% target.
- Large scale electricity generation should be matched by support for smaller scale heat generation especially in the domestic and SME sectors. This should focus on proven technologies such as solar water heating, ground source heat pumps and modern biomass systems.
But we can meet the targets, and we can do so in a way that is environmentally friendly and not financially crippling if we treat them intelligently and with resolve.
1 See BBC News Report, 18/1/08
2 This may be changing; John Hutton (Minister for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform) is quoted in the house magazine of the British Wind Energy Association (realPower) as having said "by 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the UK's homes".