Experts from the region’s key low carbon sectors have given a cautious welcome to the government’s “route map” to slashing emissions.
The UK will double the share of energy it generates from low carbon sources by 2020, the government said yesterday, bringing the share of energy produced from nuclear, wind, solar, marine and cleaner coal up to 40 per cent.
The announcement came as part of what Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Miliband called a “route map” for British emissions cuts of 34 per cent by 2020 from 1990 levels and at least 80 per cent by 2050.
He said: “Renewables, nuclear, clean fossil fuels, as this plan sets out, are the trinity of low carbon and the future of low energy in Britain. What would be fatal is to pick and choose between them. All of them should be part of our future energy mix.”
Although acknowledging a rise in energy bills to pay for increased investment – which Mr Miliband said would add about six per cent to household energy bills by 2020 – the government stressed the job creation potential of the transition to a low carbon economy.
As part of the measures announced yesterday, the government is pouring £10 million into speeding up the deployment of the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles – a key area for the West Midlands as the region recently won a bid to become a testbed for research in the area under a new £80 million programme, tapping into expertise at Jaguar Land Rover.
Coventry-based Modec, a world leader in the electric commercial vehicle sector, welcomed the announcement on electric vehicle infrastructure but challenged the government to do more to support the sales of the electric vans which are already rolling off the production line here in the West Midlands.
A spokeswoman said: “This is a very good thing and it is positive for the industry. But it does apply more to cars than commercial vehicles – and those cars aren’t around yet. Our message is that commercial vehicles are here now and the UK is ahead of the rest of the world. We are seeking government support to kick-start the market. That would be to do with upfront costs and incentives for early adopters such as tax breaks or straightforward grants for buying electric vehicles which we have seen in Europe but not in the UK.”
There was also caution from some in the biomass sector – which the West Midlands has considerable expertise in – with accusations that the government was going after “sexier” technologies such as offshore wind.
David Williams, chief executive of energy developer Eco2 and formerly biomass adviser on government renewable energy, said: “I’m worried that biomass and other renewables could suffer again at the hands of preference for offshore wind. The government has done nothing to facilitate access to debt for renewable projects – as referred to in the Budget in the form of loan guarantees etc.
“Biomass appears to be losing favour to ‘sexier’ technologies and yet is far better placed to deliver on the 2020 renewable energy targets.’’
The West Midlands is home to significant biomass initiatives such as the Ludlow Greenfinch anaerobic digestion facility which is researching innovative processes to increase gas yields.
Academics at Aston University are researching a complementary technology to anaerobic digestion – combustion and pyrolysis – to create heat and electricity as well as hydrogen from sources such as sewage, algae, agricultural and municipal waste and even building waste.
Rory Tait, a consultant in Birmingham law firm Martineau’s energy and utilities team, said the Renewable Energy Strategy was a “very bold statement” by the government. He welcomed plans to extend the renewables obligation and bring in “feed-in-tariffs” – measures to guarantee above-market prices for small-scale producers of renewable energy sold to the grid.
The government has rechristened the measures as a clean energy “cashback” scheme. Mr Tait said he believed this would stimulate interest from West Midland community groups to set up a small-scale renewables scheme. “I have been involved in a few of these that have stalled simply because there are not economically viable – I think this is a big catalyst for these schemes.”
The West Midlands low carbon economy accounts for £8.4 billion of the region’s economy, comprising 4,179 companies with about 74,000 employees.
Employment in green industries is expected to grow by 45 per cent by 2015 with jobs created in the development of renewable energy such as wind and marine power as well as the design and production of low-carbon vehicles.
Speaking as the government published the UK Low Carbon Transition Plans, Energy and Climate Change, Minister David Kidney said the West Midlands had the potential to play a “key role” in the shift to a low carbon economy.
He said: “As a world leader in cutting edge technology the West Midlands needs to harness its legacy of ingenuity and entrepreneurship to play a role in the shift to low carbon.”