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Market News

 July 14, 2009
Struggle ahead to meet 2020 targets despite fine words

 Europe's politicians have been talking the talk on boosting clean energy capacity over the last year, notably in the EU's Renewables Directive last December which committed the Union's 27 countries to achieve a 20% target by 2020.

However actual achievement in the last decade in renewable energy has been mixed, with some countries such as Denmark, Germany and Spain deploying multi-GW capacity in wind and solar, and others -- such as the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland -- lagging far behind.

For the UK, the share of renewable energy in the overall energy mix has been rising but still only stood at 2.25% in 2008. The government has a commitment to raise this to 15% by 2020, and cut emissions by 34% in 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

These figures sound impressive, but action to bring it about has been piecemeal, if sometimes welcome -- including the increased incentive for offshore wind projects announced in this spring's Budget.

Last week Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband unveiled a fresh strategy document outlining his "low-carbon transition plan".

The rhetoric was lofty. Miliband said: "Renewables, nuclear and clean fossil fuels are the trinity of low carbon and the future of energy in Britain. Under our plans we will get 40% of our electricity from low-carbon energy by 2020 and more in the years afterwards."

However the actual substance, in terms of new measures taken or proposed, was modest. His department said it would open an Office for Renewable Energy Deployment, there was the approval for a 295MW biomass power station on Teeside, and there were dollops of cash for offshore wind, wave and tidal and geothermal.

The UK government is directing up to GBP 120m (USD 198m) from its programme to advance low-carbon manufacturing into the offshore wind sector, and another GBP 60m into wave and tidal. The latter includes up to GBP 22m for a Marine Renewables Proving Fund for "testing and demonstration of wave and tidal technologies", and GBP 9.5m for the Wave Hub "sea-socket" off the coast of Cornwall.

Modest, but intriguing nonetheless, was a GBP 6m lump of funding to explore areas of potential "hot rocks" geothermal capacity in the south west of England. Geothermal, like solar, is a renewable energy source not often associated with the British Isles.

What is still missing from the government's pronouncements is a clear exposition of how the UK's renewable electricity share can be raised by 10 percentage points in only just over a decade. The problem is not finding the natural resources -- the government has put forward an offshore wind target of 14GW by 2020, with onshore wind at a similar figure.

The issue is more about finding the money, and getting the planning permission.

With banks still nursing wounds from the financial crisis, debt finance for wind projects is scarce. It is scarcer still for offshore wind, because of the greater average size of project and the consequent need for a large number of banks to be involved in each financing, and because of the greater perceived risk.

Meanwhile the planning system, despite recent efforts in both the UK as a whole and in Scotland, remains cumbersome and slow.