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United Kingdom

Offshore wind ditched

The British government's just published strategy on renewable energy sets out a "market enablement strategy" to help key technologies become competitive industries, says energy minister Tim Eggar. Although the report, New and Renewable Energy: future prospects in the UK, contains little that is completely new, it reveals a shift of emphasis in the government's approach to its renewables research and development budget of scarcely £20 million.

Rather than spreading the funds thinly over a wide number of technologies -- some far from maturity -- resources will be concentrated on bringing those which are closest to commercial competitiveness, such as wind, into the market. Indeed, the document specifically states that wind has the potential to cost-effectively contribute as much as 10% of electricity generation provided it is given credit for its environmental benefits.

The British Wind Energy Association greeted the strategy with mixed feelings. It generally welcomes the paper's recognition of wind's contribution, but is dismayed at the fate of offshore wind energy, which is categorised with technologies so far from the market that only a watching brief will be maintained. "We do not want the UK to lose out on the longer term benefits of developing offshore wind energy systems," says BWEA's Michael Harper. "This could be a valuable and rewarding area of further government-backed research." Other European countries have active offshore demonstration as well as research programmes, most notably Denmark and the Netherlands.

In the strategy, Britain's system of subsidies to renewable generators, the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) continues. Its aim is to stimulate a commercial market so that technologies "which become viable can then compete equitably within the open market," says Eggar. He anticipates that such a market could stimulate up to £3 billion private sector investment. NFFO is an essential component in achieving the government's target of 1500 MW declared net capacity (DNC) of electricity from new, renewable generation by 2000. By 1993 NFFO was supporting renewables with some £30 million each year. The DTI expects this to build up over the next few years to a maximum of around £150 million annually -- financed through a 1% levy on electricity prices -- before reducing it.

The strategy sets out a ten year research, development, demonstration and dissemination (RDD&D) programme to help develop British renewable technologies which can compete internationally. In its first year the RDD&D budget is just £19.78 million -- and will be reduced as technologies move towards the market. Renewables proponents claim a budget of this size is too small. Nevertheless Eggar is bullish: "Funding for RDD&D as provided by government, industry and other sources is significant both in its size and in enabling technologies to enter the market," he says. "Resources will be concentrated on key technologies with good prospects of commercial application -- such as solar, energy from coppice and waste, wind and fuel cells."

Many of the activities in the Department of Trade and Industry's RDD&D programme are concerned with market enablement -- the current buzzword. The programme will assess and develop technologies, ensure the market is fully informed, remove inappropriate market barriers and encourage internationally competitive industries to develop. The government intends to ditch further research on technologies that look far from maturity after existing programmes come to an end, maintaining only a watching brief. Along with wind power, geothermal, tidal and wave energy are included in this category.

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