28 June 2011: UK microgeneration strategy

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has now published a microgeneration strategy (Dept of Energy & Climate Change: Microgeneration Strategy). This aims to tackle non-financial barriers – the coalition believes that financial barriers are addressed through the Feed-in Tariff (which was introduced by Labour but has been retained by the Conservatives/Lib Dems) and the new Renewable Heat Incentive.

The strategy recognises that the main non-financial barrier is lack of trust in suppliers. Double glazing has been held back by the fact that there are numerous cowboy firms and individuals, and authorities have been very slow in introducing accreditation schemes to give potential consumers confidence that they won’t be ripped off. Some of the cowboys are now moving from double glazing into small-scale renewables such as solar photovoltaics, so the need for accreditation is urgent. Labour did better on accreditation for renewables than for double glazers – it set up a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). The coalition promises to continue and strengthen this.

However, the current government is not convinced that the MCS need extend its remit to accreditation of those selling microgeneration technology to communities, local government or small businesses:

The MCS is primarily about residential consumers, and that should remain its focus. However, we are not ruling out an option for the MCS to offer certification services to installations above the domestic scale but we believe that this needs further consideration and testing in the marketplace.

The strategy states that the government thinks the approach at the community and commercial scale should be caveat emptor (buyer beware). This seems a rather odd approach when the government is very keen to get more people buying. At present, most people beware by not buying.

The second indentified non-financial barrier is lack of sufficient skilled workers to install and maintain microgeneration equipment, and also to give accurate and reliable advice to individuals and communities. It isn’t very clear from the strategy what the government will do about this, and education and training budgets are being cut deeply in the deficit reduction plan.  However, at least the government recognizes the need for a well-trained  workforce.

The strategy’s last chapter is called  Beyond Microgeneration: Energy at a Community Scale. This recognizes that:

“… community energy schemes can provide significant economies of scale as well as benefits across the community as a whole …

and argues that:

“… barriers to Communities owning and generating their own renewable energy fall into six main categories: planning, financing, lack of information, lack of local awareness, lack of local skills and being a low priority. The Government is committed to encouraging community-owned renewable energy and where barrier are identified that are due to Government regulation, work to remove it. However in many cases other organisations are better placed to resolve issues and DECC will work to support them as appropriate.

All six categories are indeed barriers to community renewable energy, but  there is a seventh barrier – lack of a strong, clear national framework.  Other countries, notably Denmark, have made progress on community renewables with a strong framework (see Why can’t we all be more like the Danes?). DECC is correct to argue that it cannot resolve all issues and that it has to work with other organisations. However, only the government can supply the regulatory framework. Some government regulations do need to be removed, but others need to be introduced. Ideological opposition to all regulation will not deliver community renewable energy, or microgeneration, or climate protection generally.

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