It’s been a good week for renewable energy. In a week that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced £89 billion of cuts in public expenditure, that might seem surprising. As I write however, the long-awaited Renewable Heat incentive (RHI) has been supported by the Coalition Government in its Spending Review announcement. The RHI, which will do for renewable heat technologies such as wood heating, solar water heating and heat pumps, what the Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) are already doing for small-scale renewable electricity, will provide us with 12-15 years of income stream.
Say you invest in a small pellet boiler for the home, then an income stream of up to £1000 a year will help pay back the higher capital investment. For larger commercial systems the tariffs per kWh paid will be lower but still provide a good, commercial rate of return for schools, businesses and farm estates. For wood fuel providers – a rapidly growing network across the country covering estates, farmers, local authorities, wood recyclers and pellet manufacturers – as well as the boiler suppliers, this gives a long-term sense of direction to drive business growth. The previous reliance on grants was often a stop-go affair which helped bump start some good projects but hindered sustained investment and employment.
It couldn’t come at a more opportune time, as the renewable heating sector has been struggling with a growing hiatus of orders. This reflects not only uncertainties over the RHI, but also the drying up of grant programmes. Several companies I have been in touch with report reduced hours for staff as well as some actual redundancies as orders are simply not being made.
While the devil is in the detail on the RHI proposals, and the actual tariffs to be made will be revealed in the next few days, it takes away a massive amount of uncertainty for companies. Orders can be confirmed and proposals to offer leasing options to clients for kit can be firmed up.
Earlier in the week the well respected ‘A History of the World in 100 objects’ unveiled its 100th object as a forward looking object. It turned out to be a solar electric cell acting as a charger for a portable light and to recharge a mobile phone.
As Natural History Museum Director Neil MacGregor stressed, “the solar charger gives the mobile phone to large parts of Africa and South Asia where it has become a system of credit. Solar power gives to people power over their lives”. What a great way to end an incredible series and real sign of the liberating power that renewable energy can have over people’s lives.
Despite all the ‘brouha’ over wind power and other renewables by naysayers and closet nuclear supporters, renewable technologies continue to surge ahead all over the world showing a gentler way to run our future. Earlier this year the first solar powered plane to fly through the night demonstrated that it was on target to circle the globe powered purely by the sun. The Solar Impulse stayed up 26 hours in the powered by solar panels and efficient batteries. www.bbc.co.uk/news/
So while the Spending Review will make grim reading for many and public sector workers and those on welfare benefits are facing a tough future, a few green shoots are emerging. It is in these green shoots that future jobs and prosperity lie.