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Huhne: Renewable energy key to UK’s energy future

The UK’s Energy Minister has outlined a low-carbon plan for the UK but will not back a specific renewable technology.

By Isabella Kaminski

Chris Huhne, the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, set out the financial reasons for switching to a low-carbon economy in a speech to the CentreForum think-tank in London last week.

A Blueprint for our Energy Future described renewable energy as the "first pillar" of a future energy plan for the UK.

Huhne said: “We must create a policy framework that lets us discover and then use the lowest cost options. That means thinking about a range of scenarios. At one end may be a world where fossil fuel prices are exceptionally high. In that scenario, we could rely more on renewables and nuclear.

"At the other end of the spectrum, some argue that plentiful gas from unconventional sources will cause gas prices to tumble. Then we might need an energy mix with more clean gas, with carbon capture and storage.

“Our policy is about keeping our options open between technologies, but ensuring that we are on the road to the low carbon economy. We have set a direction; we will let innovation get us there.”

Huhne said the Government would fund innovation and research through the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change and in the business and transport departments. It would also set up the green investment bank, a new institution to fund the scaling up and deployment of green technology and clean energy projects, and continue with the consultation on electricity market reform.

“Under our proposals, all low-carbon technologies will benefit from support by virtue of being low-carbon. That is the compensation for what Nick Stern calls the greatest market failure of all time. A guaranteed feed-in tariff for all.

“There must also be a premium payment for early stage technologies. Pioneer technologies will benefit from extra support in the prices that we pay for electricity, just as they do now through the renewable obligation. Those furthest away from full commercialisation will get the most.”

Huhne said saving energy was crucial. “Better insulated buildings will do much of the work for us. But we must also look at renewable heat technology. More electric air and ground-source heat pumps, drawing warmth from the outside world to heat the indoors. More biogas boilers, and more solar thermal.”

He also said that there would be a big increase in the demand for electricity. “It could double by 2050 and that demand must be met with secure, affordable low-carbon supply. . .but our current energy system is not up to the job. We will lose a fifth of our generating capacity over the next 10 years, as our ageing power plants shut down. By the end of this decade, the UK must cut our carbon emissions by 34% on 1990 levels. We must generate 15% of our energy from renewables by 2020, up from 6.7% in 2009.”

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Energy efficiency  •  Policy, investment and markets