Monday, June 30, 2008

Britain gears up for $200b green shift

Gordon Brown says the UK must work to innovate in the field of alternative energy. (Reuters: David Moir)

As the Federal Government wrestles with the implementation of a national emissions trading scheme, the British Government is preparing for what it says is the biggest shake up in power generation since the Industrial Revolution.

The nation will have to spend the equivalent of more than $200 billion to ensure that renewable energy makes up 15 per cent of the UK's requirements in less than 12 years time.

The Government admits the plan is going to cost Britons more, but it says the price of inaction would be far greater.

Put simply it is a massive challenge. At the moment 5 per cent of British electricity comes from renewable sources like solar and wind power.

But to comply with European Union (EU) law, Britain needs one third of its electricity generation to come from renewables by the year 2020. That should mean energy use as whole could reach the 15 per cent renewables target.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a big task trying to persuade voters that as much as 1 per cent of GDP should be spent on this transformation.

Mr Brown says he wants the move to be part of recreating a Britain that is seen as "a beacon of innovation and wealth creation".

"Indeed, just as America led the way in the industrial age, creating a mass of high-paying blue-collar jobs, I want Britain to lead the way in the environmental age, creating new green-collar jobs," he said.

The Government acknowledges that as the nation spends as much as $200 billion on this green revolution, fuel costs will rise for everyone.

Costs, benefits

So they are concentrating on the positives. Marine renewables could contribute $2 billion a year to the economy, creating 160,000 green-collar jobs over a decade.

But Britain needs something like a new North Sea oil rush, building as many as 7,000 new wind turbines. There are not enough suppliers worldwide to meet that demand right now, let alone enough ships, cable suppliers or skilled workers.

Business Secretary John Hutton acknowledges that there is a cost involved in going green.

"I'm not going to pretend otherwise. The document we're publishing today actually tries to set that out," he said.

"But there's a greater cost if we don't, because we'd have to then factor in the climate change cost, the economic and social cost too."

He says that the challenge for governments around the world is to promote energy efficiency while managing demand intelligently.

"We've got to provide more help if we can to low income families, particularly those with young children, to meet the rise in costs of energy," he said.

"We have little real choice - the option of making no change, I'm afraid, is simply not available to us."

Green enforcement

The Government would also need new laws to force people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and to lift the number of homes with solar heating equipment from the current 90,000 to 7 million.

That would mean the equivalent of one solar heating system in every four houses.

Steve Webb from the third political party, the Liberal Democrats, is sceptical about the plans.

He says the UK is one of the worst European environmental performers.

"I think the vision is great, the goals are tremendous, but I don't know whether we can believe a word of it," he said.

"Not that Britain doesn't have wind or doesn't have waves or doesn't have daylight.

We have all of these things in abundance and that's why it's all the more extraordinary we're so far behind the rest of Europe."

Industry says the national electricity grid would need a massive expansion to help carry the new sources of renewable power.

Adapted from an AM report by Rafael Epstein.

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