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  • 23 September 2005
  • Why Government must give power to the people

    The UK government's plans to encourage millions of households to generate their own electricity now need to be backed up with effective policies, say energy experts.

    New research by academics from three leading universities shows that consumers wishing to do so face a bewildering array of hurdles. In their advice to government today (Friday 23 September), the team argues that household power generation - known as micro-generation - will only be attractive if the cost to consumers is reduced significantly.

    Micro-generation involves the use of technologies such as solar panels, rooftop wind turbines and micro-CHP (central heating boilers that also generate electricity). Its expansion has been part of government policy to tackle climate change for more than two years, but specific measures to make this happen have been slow to materialise.

    Dr Jim Watson of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, and leader of the research team, says: "These technologies hold great promise, but they are fighting on an uneven playing field. Our research shows that some basic changes in regulations could make a significant difference. People should be given the sort of help that energy companies receive through tax breaks when they invest in new power stations."

    The recent rises in energy prices are helping to make micro-generation more attractive, but not enough for a significant breakthrough. Payback times for some of these technologies are currently measured in decades. Even consumers who are replacing their central heating boiler will have to wait up to ten years to pay back the additional costs of a new micro-CHP unit.

    Dr Watson says: "Currently, the major benefit for those investing in micro-generation is a reduced electricity bill. But the government could shorten payback times by ensuring that consumers get paid a fair price for electricity they export to the grid. This electricity is particularly valuable at peak times when national demand is high. But the systems that pay the big electricity generators these fair rates don't apply to households. Electricity companies say that there are not enough micro-generators to do this. This is a classic 'chicken and egg' problem that needs some government intervention and up-front investment to achieve a breakthrough."

    Growing fears about climate change and the recent high price of oil all point to the need for radical change in the way we generate and use energy. Micro-generation technologies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions and to contribute to other policy goals such as supply security.

    Dr Watson says: "Micro-generation offers not just a new way of meeting our energy needs, but an opportunity for people to learn more about their energy choices. If government is as committed to micro-generation as it says it is, it needs to put its full weight behind making it happen'.


    Notes for editors 

    1. The research team from the Sussex Energy Group (University of Sussex), the University of Southampton and Imperial College are halfway through a two-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council's Sustainable Technologies Programme. Unlocking the Power House is examining the economics of micro-generation and barriers to implementation. For further information, contact project leader Dr. Jim Watson at the Sussex Energy Group, SPRU, University of Sussex on 07866 724777 (mobile Wednesday, Thursday and Friday); Email: Alternatively, contact Raphael Sauter on 01273 873615; Email:


    1. The team's advice is a response to the government's consultation on its Microgeneration Strategy, which was launched in June 2005. The deadline for responses is Friday 23rd September 2005. The consultation document is available from the DTI website at:


    1. A copy of the full response from the Unlocking the Power House team is available from the Raphael Sauter at the Sussex Energy Group on request.


    1. Further details about the Unlocking the Power House project are available at


    1. The Sussex Energy Group conducts research on how to cut the environmental impacts of our energy use by 60 per cent by 2050, while also meeting the goals of economic efficiency, encouraging innovation, reducing fuel poverty and maintaining security of supply. Our research aims to be policy relevant, and for this reason we are inter-disciplinary and engage closely with decision-makers across society during the course of our work. General press contact: Dr Alister Scott on 01273 877555 or

    University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678 888 or email or


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