Jim Watson writes: the Coalition government is continuing to send out signals that it regards decentralised and community energy as a priority – with a consultation announced yesterday on a new Microgeneration Strategy. This will update the original Strategy from 2006 which was published with great fanfare by the previous government.
For me, there will be two important tests for the success of this revised Strategy.
First, will it be more successful than its predecessor at delivering more microgeneration in homes, businesses and other buildings? Despite some nice high profile examples, the numbers of microgenerators has remained stubbornly around the 100,000 mark. Some technologies such as micro-wind have been over-hyped, whilst others such as micro-CHP have not yet led to commercial products. Nevertheless, one thing is clearly different this time: microgeneration of electricity now benefits from a substantial economic incentive from the feed-in tariff, which has led to an explosion of interest from community groups, local authorities and businesses. One unanswered question for the new government is whether the companion policy for renewable heat (the Renewable Heat Incentive) will be implemented as planned next year. Without an incentive like this, renewable heat is likely to remain the poor relation of the community energy portfolio.
The second test is whether this new Strategy will be part of broader action to unlock the potential for decentralised and community energy that has been neglected for so long. There are some promising signs here too. The link between microgeneration and the delivery of energy saving measures has been clearly made – and the ‘whole house’ approach that reduces demand first and then moves on to low carbon sources of supply has been endorsed. In a separate announcement a few days ago Chris Huhne announced that Local Authories would no longer be banned from selling green electricity. Such incentives for a range of actors including householders and Local Authorities to become more involved in the energy system are vital. These steps forward need to be built on further so that local solutions become a normal part of our energy landscape – and a complement the larger scale technologies that are still the primary comfort zone of most of the UK’s energy debates and policies.