Analysis: A lot of hot air?

There has been much rhetoric about how the world will meet its emissions targets, but the action has not matched the oratory. E&T looks at the UK's latest initiatives.

When targets were first set to reduce carbon emissions as part of a raft of measures to combat climate change, 2020 - the year set for achieving those reductions - seemed a long way distant. But time creeps inexorably onwards and now 2020 is beginning to loom large on the horizon.

In an attempt galvanise action the UK government has published a cluster of strategies - UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, UK Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, the Low Carbon Transport strategy and, last but by no means least, the Renewable Energy Strategy.

The Renewable Energy Strategy maps out how the UK will deliver its target of getting 15 per cent of all energy (electricity, heat and transport) from renewables by 2020, while the Low Carbon Transport plan sets out how to reduce carbon emissions from domestic transport by up to 14 per cent over the next decade.

Around 50 per cent of the annual emissions cuts between now and 2020 will be achieved by further greening of the electricity mix. According to the government, 40 per cent of the electricity we use in 2020 will come from low-carbon sources - 30 per cent from renewables, the rest from nuclear (including new build) and clean coal. The further aim is to all-but eliminate carbon from electricity by 2050.

So, amid the tub-thumping and proclamations of success, what nuggets does the report contain? It promises up to £6m to start development of a 'smart grid', including a policy road map that will, not surprisingly, be unveiled at a later date.

 The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will take direct responsibility from energy regulator Ofgem for establishing a new grid access regime within 12 months.

There are also plans to speed up the growth of renewable energy by setting up Renewable Energy Deployment, a new office within DECC. All heavy on promises, but unclear on deliverables.

One of the most common complaints from renewable energy developers concerns the process for getting planning consent. The strategy allocates £11.2m to the regions and local authorities in an attempt to speed up planning decisions on renewable and low-carbon energy, while protecting legitimate environmental and local concerns.

Ian Plunkett, Renewable Energy Partner at business and financial advisers BDO Stoy Hayward, described the white paper as "a mixed bag," adding: "There are a number of things to applaud but areas of concern remain."

On the grid infrastructure National Grid, the UK grid operator, was largely supportive. "Government energy policy is moving in the right direction and we welcome the strategic vision set out," said National Grid chief executive Steve Holliday. "But it's now critical to get action on delivering what's needed to turn that vision into reality. The challenge of ensuring security of supply and fighting climate change is one where we cannot afford to fail.

"Crucially, planning reform must be implemented without delay - where major infrastructure investments are concerned, dates like 2020 are only the blink of an eye away and the clock is ticking. The 2008 Planning Act set out the right framework, but the government needs to finalise the National Policy Statements on planning as soon as possible."

The strategy confirms that wind energy will be a prime force in achieving the target of increasing renewable generation from 5 per cent today to 30 per cent by 2020. Based on the figures in last year's draft strategy this implies 22 per cent of all electricity will come from offshore and onshore wind and another 2 per cent from marine technologies. However, the final document does not contain a detailed breakdown of the expected contribution from different technologies.

According to Maria McCaffery, chief executive of British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), the strategy provides a clear route map but still lacks details on delivery. "Industry is now looking for a cross-party consensus on the detail of delivery," she said. "This will help convince investors that the country is serious about fighting climate change and developing domestic, renewable sources of energy."

The strategy is also set to deliver a host of other incentives encouraging deployment of small wind systems and setting clear expectations at local level on progress towards targets. The government is consulting on feed-in tariffs, and reiterates commitment to the Renewable Obligation until 2037.

"We know that our 2020 targets can be met," McCaffery added. "We are on the threshold of a new energy era and need just one more decisive push over the next ten years to deliver on our targets, and move to a low-carbon economy. The strategy is the roadmap we have been waiting for, and we now need to set our sights squarely on implementation."

Another important announcement buried in the report was approval for the £500m Tees Renewable Energy Plant, located at Teesport, and being developed by British company MGT Power. At 295MW capacity, the facility will be one of the largest-ever biomass plants to be built in the world, and one of the largest of all renewable energy projects. It is scheduled to enter commercial operation in late 2012.

The plant will use around 2.4 million tonnes of woodchips per annum and will operate at baseload - 24 hours a day, all year round. This means the Tees Renewable Energy Plant will produce the same amount of renewable electricity over a year as a 1,000MW wind farm.

At the end of this year the landmark COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Copenhagen, where the leaders of the world will attempt to thrash out the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, this time to include the United States and the emerging BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The publication of this strategy certainly places the UK in a strong position for those talks.

"In five months, the world must come together at Copenhagen and follow through on the commitment of world leaders last week [at the G8 summit] to stop dangerous climate change," said Ed Miliband, Energy and Climate Change Secretary. "With this strategy we have shown how Britain will play its part."

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