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					InSite Magazine Micropower – where consumers meet energy policy The UK consumer has an insatiable hunger for energy hungry gadgets – MP3 players, computer games, up-to-date mobile phones / entertainment systems, the list goes on. This is creating considerable additional demand for electricity as the number of gadgets increases, coupled with the tendency to leave charging units plugged in a switched on when not in use, or to leave things on standby – in some cases using up to 90% of the electricity they use when fully switched on. However, there is an emerging desire for new gadgets with an exciting difference – they produce energy rather than consume it, and do so from sustainable sources. They are the new “must have”, especially with our politicians - both Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks and opposition leader David Cameron are about to get small wind turbines to put on their homes. Even BBC Newsnight‟s “Ethical Man” is trying to get one too. Others are putting solar panels on their homes, installing devices that extract renewable heat from the ground, installing gas heating systems that perform all the functions of a boiler, but generate electricity as well, or even switching to wood-fuelled heating. But what these politicians and many other householders have found is that it‟s not easy trying to be green. Red tape in the form of the planning system, problems connecting to the electricity network, the inability to get paid for any surplus power produced, problems accessing similar subsidies available to large scale renewables and the high up-front cost of some of the technologies available combine together to make it difficult for all but the most determined consumer. More on this later, but first, what is micropower and why should all homes, schools and businesses have it?

What is it? Micropower is production of sustainable heat and / or electricity on the smallest of scales – typically but not exclusively in the household sector. Micropower technologies include microwind turbines, micro combined heat and power (central heating systems that also generate electricity whilst performing the same functions as a boiler), solar electricity, fuel cells, solar hot water, heat pumps, biomass heating and micro-hydro, as well as others.

Why should we have it? Micropower technologies are desirable for a number of reasons. First, there are good economic reasons. Some micropower technologies are already cost effective, and others are set to become so in the next few years as more get installed and prices come down. Moreover, continued rises in energy prices are likely to make self production of energy an increasingly attractive option. In some instances their running costs are extremely low – lower even than the winter fuel allowance paid by the government to the elderly and other vulnerable members of society during cold spells. They also help future-proof buildings against future volatility in energy prices. Second, all micropower technologies reduce or eliminate fossil fuels, and associated carbon dioxide emissions, the gas now widely recognised as the principal contributor to climate change. A typical large power station wastes over a third of its fuel by simply heating up the atmosphere. A further 10% of what is produced is wasted by heating up transmission and distribution wires, meaning less than half of the fuel is used productively by the consumer. By comparison, microgeneration technologies use more than 90% of the fuel productively for heat or electricity, or are powered by clean, renewable sources. As an illustration, 1 million tonnes of annual carbon savings would be achieved by any of: 1 million biomass heating systems (1 in every 26 homes), 6 million gas-fired micro-combined heat & power units (1 in every 4 homes), 7m micro-wind, photovoltaic or solar hot water systems (1 in every 3-4 homes). Third, they could make a significant contribution to the country‟s future energy needs. The gas used in a year by a new “baseload” gas-fired power station1 would be saved by any of: 1 million biomass heating systems, 3m gas-fired micro-combined heat and power or 7m wind or solar installations. Fourth, they also relieve pressure on the grid at times of peak demand. In a striking example of microgeneration potential, if just one quarter of all gas boilers that will be replaced between now and 2020 are replaced with ones that can generate power, the contribution to winter peak electricity demand they would make would be similar to just under half of that provided by today‟s nuclear power stations. Some micropower technologies, when taken up in large numbers, will also provide a more predictable source of power generation than large power

1

Figures based on a 1GW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine.

stations. A single power station is either on or off. In fact an extra two power stations have to be kept on at all times just to cover the eventuality that it might switch off suddenly. By contrast, the diversity of micropower allows for much higher levels of confidence in its availability. Some technologies even also provide back-up power in the event of a blackout. Finally, and probably most importantly, micropower acts as a catalyst for cultural change. There are wider benefits than just direct cost and carbon reductions. Consumers with micropower exhibit noticeable changes in their energy use, as well as sending a clear visual signal of how a property contributes in generating low or zero carbon energy to neighbours. This is a powerful tool for motivation and engagement creating important changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour. In short, micropower technologies re-connect and re-engage consumers with their use of energy.

How much of it is out there? Micropower is not, by any measure, “mainstream”. In 2004 there were approximately 82,000 microgeneration installations in the UK as below.

Technology
Wind

Number of Units Notes and applicability
~700 installed Typically roof/wall-mounted, mass market domestic sector (<3kW) Mass market for gas boiler replacements Technology becoming more established High electrical efficiency & therefore carbon offset Fully commercial, already in production

MicroCHP Photovoltaics Fuel Cells

~200 installed ~1100 installed ~10 installed

Solar Thermal

~80,000 installed

Ground Source Heat Pumps ~400 installed

Particularly attractive for new-build sector, can be combined with intermittent renewable generation & electricity storage E.g. Wood pellet boilers Water mill conversions

Biomass Heating Micro-Hydro

~150 installed ~100 installed

Source - EST study: Potential for Microgeneration

Yet a study by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) for the Department of Trade and industry (DTI) shows the true potential, suggesting that by 2050, microgeneration could provide 30-40% of the UK's electricity needs and help to reduce household carbon emissions by 15% per annum if certain steps were taken to encourage its uptake.

Source: EST study – Potential for Microgeneration

So is happening to bring micropower into the mainstream?

The industry, in the form of the Micropower Council, has been calling for three principal things from government to help this along: setting targets to provide confidence for private sector investment in the industry‟s manufacturing and installation capability to achieve substantial cost reductions, the removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers, and pump-priming to help achieve long-run costs earlier.

Things are moving in the right direction - Parliament recently passed The Climate and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 into law, and the government published a Microgeneration Strategy in March 2006. The combined effect of these, if implemented properly, should provide the confidence referred to above and sweep away many of the regulatory barriers. Government appears, therefore, to be willing to play its part in helping microgeneration become a major contributor to Energy Policy. The Government‟s Microgeneration Strategy, reinforced and built on by the recent Energy Review, acknowledged that „a range of constraints is currently affecting the wide-scale deployment of microgeneration. These include that the „upfront cost of an installation can be off-putting‟ and that „even where there is demand for some form of microgeneration inadequate promotion and poor information may be preventing that demand being converted into actual purchase. There is also a range of technical issues that mean that the installation of a microgeneration technology is not quite as straightforward as, for example, changing a boiler. They also mean that access to the rewards available for electricity generating microgenerators is more difficult than it should be. Finally, planning policy and Building Regulations both provide opportunities and can act as constraint‟.

There is much in the Microgeneration Strategy and Energy Review which will help remove the regulatory barriers to greater uptake of microgeneration. These include the recognition of the need for micropower technologies such as wind and solar (within reason) to be exempted from the need for planning permission which can be costly and time consuming; clear signals have been given to electricity suppliers to implement schemes for rewarding electricity sold back by consumers; the government has committed to allowing customers simpler access to subsidies for renewable electricity production; and a single accreditation scheme is being developed to provide consumers with an independent indication of reliability and a single source for complaints.

In addition, the government has committed to strengthen guidance to Local Authorities to encourage local planning policies that require minimum proportions of new buildings‟ energy requirements to be met by micropower, and promised to use the new Code for Sustainable Homes, some elements of which will be mandatory, as a means to promote micropower. It has even gone as far as to amend primary legislation to allow it to require micropower in all new buildings at some stage in the future. A statutory duty now exists for the government to promote renewable heat – often regarded as the poor cousin of the sustainable energy sector – the only one that does not benefit from tailored policies to promote its uptake. It is early days on this, but the government has lent a listening ear to proposals put forward recently by the industry on a workable scheme to knock several hundred pounds of the up-front price of renewable heat micropower technologies such as solar hot water, heat pump systems, and biomass heating. Some pump-priming has also been provided. The Chancellor‟s announcement of an extra £50m in the budget (taking the total funding for microgeneration over the next three years to £80m) is to be welcomed, although care does need to be exercised in the way this money is spent to make sure that it encourages the industry to scale up quickly and achieve permanent cost reductions.

Overall, the industry considers the government to have done a good job so far in terms of some regulatory and policy changes already made, and the high level commitments to go further in the Microgeneration Strategy and the Energy Review. Implementing the Microgeneration Strategy – emerging concerns

To end on a perhaps less up-beat note, there are serious doubts emerging in the industry that the government has enough civil servants working on implementing the Microgeneration Strategy. The Strategy represents an ambitious programme of work which, if implemented properly and in genuine partnership with the industry, should make a real difference. However, six months after publication, the government has yet to set up the body to oversee implementation, has not set a budget for the work programme, and has only one civil servant working on the subject full time. In the forthcoming reorganisation of the Department of Trade and Industry‟s Energy Group, it is vital that this is given adequate attention and the necessary human and financial resources. The risk of not doing so would not only be a significant set-back for the industry (as well as

politically embarrassing given the government‟s strong words in support of high level policy commitments to the micropower industry), it would be a lost opportunity to stimulate a thriving new sector of the British economy, engage consumers actively in the impact their everyday lives have on the use of energy an climate change, and make a substantial contribution to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Who knows? With the right policies, and the proper resources to implement them, one day our consumer addiction to gadgets may not be such a bad thing after all, and could even become a key factor in mitigating human impact on climate change.

Dave Sowden Chief Executive Micropower Council www.micropower.co.uk


				
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