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Sussex scientists question viability of government's green energy plan

* 29 May 2002 *

Sussex scientists question viability of government's green energy plan

Government plans to generate 10 per cent of Britain's electricity from renewable sources by 2010 are fatally flawed and will do little to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, according to researchers at the University of Sussex. 

In a newly published report, Dr Jim Watson and Dr Adrian Smith of SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex, suggest that, while on the surface renewable energy seems profitable, it is being held back by a variety of factors. "Will the potential revenue boost overcome the hurdles of planning, network access and electricity trading rules that are holding renewable back?" asks Dr Watson. 

In April 2002 the government published the 'Renewables Obligation' plan, with an aim to see one-tenth of the UK's electricity generation achieved by non-fossil fuel forms such as biomass, solar and wind power by 2010. The plan has been a commitment since Labour took office in 1997.  

However, in reality it may never be met. One of the main obstacles, according to Dr Watson, is the New Electricity Trading Agreement (NETA), which dictates how electricity is generated and bought for supply. This rewards companies that can predict exactly how much energy they will supply and penalises those that fail. With fossil fuels this is a simple task. With wind power, however, the amount of electricity supplied can vary according to the weather. This uncertainty could lead to fines for wind energy companies, making its generation more expensive. 

Another stumbling block is the difficulty in obtaining planning permission for renewable energy projects. For example, in the entire south-east of England, currently only one wind farm exists, producing 1mw of power a year. According to the Government Office of the South East of England, output will have to increase by 143 per cent to meet targets, which would certainly mean more wind farms. 

Dr Watson's findings are that NETA will have to be changed to accommodate non-fossil fuels and that, while the sentiment of the Renewables Obligation is welcome, in practice much more needs to be done to stimulate innovation in the field of renewable energy.

* Notes for editors *

Dr Adrian Smith and Dr Jim Watson, 'The Renewables Obligation: can it deliver?', April 2002, is available online from The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

For further information, please contact Benedict Brook, or Alison Field, University of Sussex,
Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, or

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