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Micropower Conference - Launch of the Microgeneration Strategy

Malcolm Wicks MP,  Minister of State for Energy
QEII Conference Centre, London,  29 March 2006

Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister of State for Energy

"London “under water by 2100"

"Global warming doubles glacial quakes"

"World has only 20 years to stop climate disaster"

These are just a selection of recent press headlines highlighting the dangers of climate change. It is increasingly hard to avoid the facts. The growing body of scientific evidence makes it difficult for the most hardened cynic to deny climate change is happening. And prove the Prime Minister is right when he calls climate change the greatest environmental threat.

The Climate Change Programme published yesterday outlined the scale of the challenge. The revised Programme anticipates that carbon dioxide emissions will be between 15% to 18% below 1990 levels by 2010. Not quite hitting our 20% target, but making good progress nevertheless. And this is not the final word – we will still be working on measures to further reduce emissions. Our 2010 target remains within reach.

It seems to me we are in a race. Climate change has a head start, the emissions that cause the greenhouse effect were up and running long before we were in the blocks. But we have made a good recovery and started to make in-roads. It is now important that we hand over the baton in a way that allows future generations to overtake on the final bend. In this race there can be no second place.

But all this talk of melting ice-sheets, rising sea-levels, flooded cities – it must be a matter for the G8, the EU perhaps the UN? Surely Presidents and Prime Ministers are the only people with the power to arrest climate change? Up to a point this is true and there is a developing international agenda where the UK is taking the lead. But as individuals we are far from powerless. Indeed as individuals we are responsible for 27% of the UK’s total emissions of carbon dioxide. At the moment we are all part of the problem – in terms of how we use and abuse energy in our homes and modes of transport.

But we can become part of the solution. We can move from being passive consumers to taking a more active approach to environmental issues. This is starting to happen.
More of us are aware of the need to conserve our resources and so are recycling than ever before. Awareness of climate change is rising, but we have not yet made a similar step from awareness of an issue, to taking action.

Last week was National Science week. As part of our efforts to achieve a behavioural shift we launched the “Click 4 Climate” campaign. So far 17,000 people have pledged to take specific action to tackle climate change.

This is where microgeneration, power from the people, can play an increasing role. Microgeneration technologies are exciting products. In some ways they are the ultimate high-tech product – roof-tiles that generate electricity from sunlight. In other ways they are a real throwback – the wind has been used as a source of power for centuries.

These technologies connect us with energy once more. It wasn’t so long ago that we were shovelling coal into fires in order to generate heat – now all we have to do is flick the thermostat.

Microgeneration technologies with informative display technology bring back this link and allow us to see just how much electricity or heat we are using, and the difference that small actions, such as installing energy efficient light bulbs, can make.

Microgeneration also contributes to our other energy policy goals. It can help us to reduce reliance on energy imports by providing households and communities with power sources that exploit our own abundant natural resources. It can help us to tackle fuel poverty. If we can fund the upfront costs of installation then microgeneration technologies can provide heat at a minimal cost.

Our strategy to promote microgeneration was published yesterday. This strategy looks at removing all the barriers currently preventing widespread take-up of microgeneration.

Of course, part of this strategy is the allocation of capital grants through our Low Carbon Buildings Programme. Following the Chancellor’s announcement last week of an additional £50 million, this Programme now has £80 million to allocate over a three-year period.
This is a significant demonstration of Government commitment to these technologies, it is now up to the industry to deliver.

But capital grants are not the full answer to achieving the sustainable market for microgeneration that is required to allow these technologies to achieve their potential. There are other means that can be used to reduce the upfront costs. Through this strategy we will make access to ROCs easier for microgenerators, we also set a deadline for energy suppliers to develop a scheme that properly rewards the export of electricity.

Better information is also needed. I am sure we have all heard friends, family, colleagues say “I’d like to do that microgeneration thing… but I can’t seem to find the right information”. Under this strategy we will be evaluating existing communications activity. Undoubtedly there are exemplars, but the clear feedback from our consultation was that quality of information provision is patchy and there is a lack of co-ordination. We must do better.

Planning policy is always mentioned as a barrier to microgeneration. I am pleased to say that colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are taking this issue very seriously. They are looking at what can be done to facilitate the installation of microgeneration in existing buildings. They are also in the midst of an urgent review to assess whether local authorities are full incorporating our renewable energy policies in their local plans. If there is a problem appropriate action will be taken.

Community engagement is a key element of the strategy. The installation of microgeneration in a community setting, perhaps through a social enterprise, can make a significant impact in terms of engaging the public in tackling climate change. They can see these technologies in action and learn about the benefits they have in terms of saving money and saving the environment.

The Community Renewables Initiative has done good work in facilitating many community installations. [Which is why I am pleased to announce that we will continue funding this organisation for a further year.]

Schools are the often the hub of a community. But more importantly they are where the behaviour of future generations is shaped. Solar panels, wind turbines, wood-fuelled boilers. These technologies and more can bring the message home to our children. They can act as vivid teaching aids in science lessons, civics lessons, geography lessons.

And, as is often the way, those children will then begin to educate the parents. In this way we can start to shift behaviour. Last Monday I hosted, along with Maria Eagle from the Department for Education and Skills, a meeting with key industry stakeholders to discuss how we can work together to put more microgeneration in schools. This is the first step in what I hope will be a rewarding partnership between the public and private sector.

In total the microgeneration strategy contains 25 separate actions. The only way we can achieve this is by working together. We are all responsible, but each of us in our individual and professional lives can and must make a difference.