The UK government has set out a national renewable energy blueprint designed to slash carbon emissions and reduce dependency on oil and gas, with a key component a push for a significant expansion of on-site renewable heating.

Business Secretary John Hutton outlined the proposals – likely to include up to a third of electricity coming from renewable sources as well as significant increases in the use of renewable forms of heat and transport fuels – to meet the UK’s anticipated 15% renewable energy target by 2020, an increase of 1000% on current levels.

The proposals are described in a new Renewable Energy Strategy consultation document and include the introduction of a new financial incentive mechanism to encourage a very large increase in renewable heat, including in homes and other buildings, and extending more effective financial support for heat and electricity microgeneration technologies, potentially through a feed-in tariff.

The measures also propose to extend and raise the level of the Renewables Obligation to encourage 30% – 35% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Other proposals include ensuring appropriate incentives for new electricity grid infrastructure and removing access to the transmission grid as a barrier to renewable deployment; exploiting the full potential of energy from waste by considering further restrictions on landfilling biomass, as far as is practical; requiring all biofuels to meet strict sustainability criteria to limit adverse impacts on food prices, and other social and environmental concerns; and maximising the benefits for UK business by providing a clear long-term policy framework.

The government estimates that reaching the proposed EU target of 15% from renewables could reduce gas imports by between 12-16% in 2020, although it adds that ‘there will be a need for significant investment in non-renewable back-up generation given the largely intermittent nature of renewable generation.’

The UK’s Renewable Energy Association welcomed the breadth of the strategy document, saying: ‘Importantly the document goes beyond the usual focus on centralised electricity and recognises the enormous potential of renewables in heat, transport, buildings and local generation.’

REA Executive Director Philip Wolfe added: ‘The industry has a very short space of time with which to meet challenging targets. There are still gaps and anomalies that need to be addressed with fresh polices.’ Wolfe added: ‘The key missing factor is a greater sense of urgency. We have only twelve years left and government still wants to use two of those talking about it.’

The developments follow a recent report from the RAB which found that the UK could generate 14% of its total energy from renewables by 2020 if a set of identified radical policy changes are put into effect quickly.
With a further 1% remaining, the report sets out three possible options – including development of the Severn Barrage project, more offshore wind and the development of district heating networks – but stressed that delivery of each will present further challenges to meet the ambitious proposed target.

Alan Moore, co-chairman of RAB said: ‘If the 15% target is to be approached we need to establish a different energy world. Many of these changes will need to be radical and will require, above all else, political leadership and a determination to succeed.’