Philip Wolfe, Chief Executive of the Renewable Power Association, welcomed the consultation: ‘At a time when some may be tempted to focus on “big solutions to big problems”, the Government is to be congratulated for drawing attention to the significant contribution that micro-renewables can make to delivering the Government’s overall energy efficiency and renewable energy targets.’

British Gas went further, predicting that in less than five years’ time nearly 200,000 UK households will be generating their own electricity through a micro-CHP replacement for domestic boilers. The company is working with Microgen, a subsidiary of BG Group, in the development of a 1 kWe micro-CHP unit based on a Stirling engine. The Microgen appliance is going through final development and testing and is expected to be available for sale in 2007.

Meanwhile, UK photovoltaic company SolarCentury was disappointed, particularly by proposals for a new grant scheme. CEO Dr Jeremy Leggett said: ‘The spirit of the Government’s move is good. What worries me is the lack of specifics.’

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US Energy Policy Act provides incentrives for energy efficiency

US President Bush finally signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law in August. The wide-ranging Act creates the first national energy plan for the US in more than a decade. It will, according to the White House, encourage energy efficiency and conservation, promote alternative and renewable energy sources, reduce US dependence on foreign sources of energy, increase domestic production, help to modernize the electricity grid, and encourage the expansion of nuclear energy.

The Act offers consumers tax credits for making energyefficiency improvements in their homes and sets new minimum energy-efficiency standards for a range of consumer and commercial products. It will also reduce government energy use by reauthorizing the Energy Savings Performance Contract programme, adds the White House. This allows private contractors to help federal agencies improve the energy efficiency of their facilities.

The Act also aims to help modernize aging energy infrastructure to help reduce the risk of large-scale blackouts and minimize transmission bottlenecks. The Act is designed to promote the use of renewable energy sources with tax credits for wind, solar and biomass energy, including the firstever tax credit for residential solar energy systems. It also expands research into developing hydrogen technologies and establishes a national Renewable Fuels Standard to encourage greater use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

The potential effect of the new Act on decentralized energy is as yet unclear, but COSPP will no doubt return to this subject in the next issue.

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Decentralized electricity generation is the new power technology of choice

Decentralized power generation is enjoying impressive progress in the global market despite the many obstacles still in its way. But that progress is often underestimated. Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute colleagues Kenneth Davies and Nathan Glasgow present an analysis of the growth of decentralized energy and suggest why its development is outperforming that of centralized plant, including nuclear technology.

Decentralized generation – in The Economist’s apt term, micropower – enjoys an important market share in some countries: in 2004, 52% of the electricity generated in Denmark, 39% in the Netherlands, 37% in Finland, 31% in Russia, 18% in Germany, 16% in Japan, 16 % in Poland, 15% in China, 14% in Portugal, 11% in Canada. Yet it is omitted from many official statistics and projections, underreported in the media, and often dismissed by policymakers as small and slow – a fringe market too trivial to bother with. Surprise!

A recent compilation of industry and official data published in June by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) found that micropower worldwide has already surpassed nuclear power in both annual output (in 2005) and installed capacity (in 2002), and is growing far faster in absolute terms.

In 2004, DG added 2.9 times as much output and 5.9 times as much generating capacity as nuclear power added worldwide. Since nuclear power is often represented as an important technology, providing 20% of US and 16% of world electricity, surpassing this benchmark should at last qualify micropower as a serious competitor.

Roughly 65% of micropower’s 2004 capacity and 77% of its output was fossilfuelled CHP; the rest, diverse renewable sources. RMI’s assessment probably understates the actual total for both categories. A separate and similarly detailed compilation in press at Worldwatch Institute by Dr Eric Martinot (formerly at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, now at Tsinghua University) draws similar conclusions but finds more small hydro because it uses China’s definition (up to 30 MWe, not 10 MWe). Neither RMI’s nor Martinot’s assessment includes big hydroelectric projects. In 2003, the US Department of Environment (DOE) estimated that hydroelectricity, very largely in big units and probably omitting many smaller ones, was 20% of world capacity and 17% of world net generation.