Warm response to UK government’s renewable heat incentive

Industry and green groups alike have responded warmly to the UK government’s proposals to introduce a renewable heat incentive (RHI).

Currently, 47% of the UK’s total energy consumption goes on heating and accounts for 46% of the country’s carbon emissions.

The government wants to see a move away from a reliance on fossil fuels in place of alternatives such as biomass, ground- and water-source heat pumps, solar thermal and biomethane, which it plans to drive with the RHI.

The industry, represented by the Micropower Council, has roundly praised the plans, particularly the earmarking of funds for domestic installations during the first year of the scheme.

“This should provide confidence that this is a serious policy aimed at encouraging citizens to switch over to more sustainable home heating systems in their tens and hundreds of thousands in the early years, and subsequently, we hope, in their millions,” says chief executive Dave Sowden.

Energy company E.ON, which has already installed some 2000 heat pumps in the UK, as well as solar heating and hot water systems, has also warmly welcomed the proposals.

“[This] announcement is an important step in developing the market for these new technologies just as the feed-in tariff has done for renewable electricity,” says Graham Bartlett of E.ON. “It’s absolutely vital that we start weaning ourselves off an over-reliance on gas boilers and on to more renewable systems, [particularly] for off-grid homes.”

E.ON is working with the northern city of Sheffield on community-scale projects as part of the city’s recently announced bid to become energy self-sufficient.

But business lobby group the CBI, which launched a report earlier this week on the challenges of creating a market for low-carbon technologies, warned that the government will have to gain public buy-in to the scheme.

“Our research shows that three quarters of people don’t consider energy efficiency when they buy a home, so the success of this scheme rests on simplicity and capturing the public’s imagination,” says Rhian Kelly.

The CBI is also urging the government to support other cost-effective ways of reducing heat emissions, including district heating schemes.

Green group Friends of the Earth also cautioned that while the scheme has potentially positive aspects – the focus on community-scale schemes and the inclusion of biomethane for example – there are serious concerns that the RHI could also encourage use of unsustainable biomass and incineration.

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Related stories:
UK government sets out case for renewable heat incentive (11-Mar)
Sheffield bids to become the UK’s first energy self-sufficient city (25-Feb)
Stoke-on-Trent to work with E.ON to become sustainable city (1-Oct 2010)

11 March 2011