Experts say renewable energy could provide a major shot in the arm for the region's economy and manufacturing sector. But are we lagging behind the rest of the UK?
By failing to support enough renewable energy projects the West Midlands is not only missing out on sustainable future for its energy supply, but also for its manufacturing, an industry expert has claimed.
Bob Dorman, project manager for Birmingham-based WindSupply – a national organisation promoting manufacturing opportunities in renewable energy - said that while business leaders and public bodies were predicting the industry’s demise, they were missing a big opportunity to boost it.
He said: "Manufacturing in the West Midlands is not dead, but it will be if we don’t support it. Environmental technologies are all about manufacturing and engineering and we have more of this in the Midlands than anywhere in the UK.
"What we need are renewable energy demonstration projects showing off the skills of our local industry. But instead the region lags behind much of the UK for renewable energy projects."
As North Sea gas runs out, the UK has become increasingly dependant on importing fossil fuels from other countries and has started to look at renewables as a way of securing energy security.
A Government Office West Midlands (GOWM) report has estimated that the West Midlands could generate up to 3,000 gigawatt hours of electricity from renewable energy each year – equivalent to ten per cent of what the region uses.
But in the region’s energy strategy – launched in 2004– the target for green electricity is just five per cent of consumption by 2010.
Ralph Hepworth, head of environmental technologies at Advantage West Midlands, hit back at Mr Dorman’s criticisms and said the groundwork was in place for more West Midlands renewable projects.
"The problem is that the West Midlands suffers from an excess of honesty. Many regions have chosen to use the government target of ten per cent of energy generated should be renewable.
"The West Midlands is a big consumer of energy that has traditionally been imported from elsewhere. So when you look at it like that, five per cent of consumption is an ambitious target."
Mr Hepworth added that there had been efforts made to engage the region’s businesses in renewable energy and said that he expected to see a number of new projects launched in the coming months.
Andy Stevenson, director of Energy West Midlands, the region’s energy office said there was also a problem that the region was not suited to some of the more obvious forms of renewable energy. He said: "Because of the region’s geography, large-scale wind power developments - which in other parts of the UK can deliver cost-effective renewable energy - are unlikely to be a viable option.
"Instead, we are currently working hard to focus attention on the development of bioenergy technologies such as biomass and biofuels which offer significant opportunities to cut carbon emissions and provide security of supply."
But Chris Shears, director of the country's largest wind energy company Hertfordshire-based RES, and chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, said the region could still make far better use of wind turbines.
He said: "The success of the onshore wind industry in the UK and around the world, where it is a #10 billion annual global market, has shown that there are enormous economic benefits to be reaped from renewable energy technologies and the West Midlands is well-placed to take advantage of this."
PROJECTS FOR THE REGION
South Shropshire Biowaste Digester Anerobic digestor plant using kitchen and garden waste from households to create energy. Developed by Ludlow firm Greenfinch the project was funded by Defra and Advantage West Midlands
Talbots, Staffordshire This company produces boilers powered by woodchip to homes, offices and public buildings
B5 Biodiesel Network, Shropshire Launched in February 2006, the scheme provides a network of garages selling ‘Biodiesel’ - a fuel made from five per cent renewable biofuel and 95 per cent diesel
Midland Wood Fuel, Shropshire A company installing wood heat boilers. So far, 24 wood heat boilers have been installed across municipal buildings and private homes. The boilers are fuelled by wood chips from forestry works and unwanted timber supplies. They save around 1,400 tonnes of C02 per year
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