Sunday, 28 September 2008

Solar plant yields water and crops from the desert

Vast greenhouses that use sea water for crop cultivation could be combined with solar power plants to provide food, fresh water and clean energy in deserts, under an ambitious proposal from a team of architects and engineers.

The Sahara Forest Project, which is already running demonstration plants in Tenerife, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, envisages huge greenhouses with concentrated solar power (CSP), a technology that uses mirrors to focus the sun's rays, creating steam to drive turbines to generate electricity.

The installations would turn deserts into lush patches of vegetation, according to its designers, and do away with the need to dig wells for fresh water, an activity that has depleted aquifers across the world.

Charlie Paton, a member of the team, and the inventor of the Seawater Greenhouse, said the scheme was a proven way to transform arid environments. "Plants need light for growth but they don't like heat beyond a certain point," he said.

Above certain temperatures the amount of water lost through leaves' stomata rises so much plants stop their photosynthesis and do not grow. The solar farm planned by the project runs seawater evaporators, pumping damp, cool air through the greenhouses. This reduces the warmth inside by about 15C, compared with the temperature outside.

At the other end of the greenhouse from the evaporators, water vapour is condensed. Some of this fresh water is used to water the crops, some for cleaning the solar mirrors.

"So we've got conditions in the greenhouse of high humidity and lower temperature," said Paton. "The crops sitting in this slightly steamy, humid condition can grow fantastically well."

The designers said that virtually any vegetables could be grown in the greenhouses. The demonstration plants already produce lettuces, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. The nutrients to grow the plants could come from local seaweed or be extracted from the seawater.

Michael Pawlyn, of Exploration Architecture, based in London, worked on the Eden Project for seven years and is now part of the Sahara Forest team. He said that the Seawater Greenhouse and CSP provided substantial synergies for each other. "Both technologies work extremely well in hot, dry, desert locations. CSP produces a lot of waste heat and we'd be able to use that to evaporate more seawater from the greenhouse. And CSP needs a supply of clean, de-mineralised water in order for the [electricity generating] turbines to function and to keep the mirrors at peak output. It just so happens the Seawater Greenhouse produces large quantities of this."

Paton said the greenhouse produced more than five times the fresh water needed to water the plants inside, so some of the water could be released to the outside, creating a microclimate for hardier plants such as jatropha, a crop that can be turned into biofuel.

The cost of the Sahara Forest Project could be relatively low as both CSP and Seawater Greenhouses are proven technologies. The designers estimate that building 20 hectares (nearly 50 acres) of greenhouses combined with a 10MW CSP scheme would cost about €80m (£65m).

Paton said groups in countries across the Middle East, including in UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, have expressed interest in possibly funding demonstration projects.

He said use of Seawater Greenhouses could reverse the environmental damage done by the glasshouses already built in places such as the desert region of Almeria, southern Spain, where, constructed over the past 20 years to grow salad crops, they now covered more than 40,000 hectares.

Paton said: "They take water out of the ground something like five times faster than it comes in, so the water table drops and becomes more saline. The whole of Spain is being sucked dry. If one were to convert them all to the Seawater Greenhouse concept it would turn an unsustainable solution into a more sustainable one."

Pawlyn said: "In places like Oman they've effectively sterilised large areas of land by using groundwater that's become increasingly saline. The beauty of the Sahara Forest scheme is that you can reverse that process and turn barren land into biologically productive land."

Neil Crumpton, an energy specialist at Friends of the Earth, said the potential of these desert technologies was huge. "Concentrated solar power mirror arrays covering just 1% of the Earth's deserts could supply a fifth of all current global energy consumption. And 1 million tonnes of sea water could be evaporated every day from just 20,000ha of greenhouses."

Governments should invest in the technologies and "not be distracted by lobbyists promoting dangerous nuclear power or nuclear-powered desalination schemes", Crumpton added.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to invest more than $45 trillion (£22.5 trillion) in new energy systems over the next 30 years.

Source - The guardian

Solar panels are new hot property for thieves

Glenda Hoffman has an answer for the thieves, should they choose to return to her home in Desert Hot Springs, California. "I have a shotgun right next to the bed and a .22 under my pillow."

Hoffman was the victim of a theft that one industry professional has dubbed "the crime of the future". Another observer has come up with the term "grand theft solar" to describe the spate of recent burglaries in sunny California.

In May Hoffman lost 16 solar panels from her roof in three separate burglaries, one while she slept below. Happily for Hoffman her insurers have agreed to pay the $95,000 (£48,000) cost of replacing the panels. But as energy prices soar, and solar power takes off - at least in California - so opportunistic thieves have turned to the lucrative, and complicated, business of dismantling solar panels.

"I wouldn't say it's pervasive, but it's going on," California Solar Energy Industries Association executive director Sue Kateley told the Valley Times.

California is the leader for solar installations, with 33,000 across the state. Unsurprisingly, it is also the market leader for thefts of solar installations, although figures are hard to come by.

"The solar panel thing is pretty new," said Contra Costa county sheriff's office spokesman Jimmy Lee. "We're seeing an increasing number of cases."

One night in late August, 26 solar panels with a value of $20,000 were stolen from California's first certified organic farm, Star Route Farms in Bolinas, 20 miles up the coast from San Francisco.

"It's probably easier to steal a $20,000 car," Rob Erlichman, president of Sunlight Electric, which sold the panels to the farm in 2006, told the Point Reyes Light. "To steal that many panels you need a truck and you need guys."

A few miles inland, in Lafayette, a truck and some guys is just what the thieves had. A resident came home during the day to find three men on the roof of his house and five of his solar panels in the back of a rented truck. The men fled, leaving behind the truck and the panels.

Ken Martin, who runs a real estate company in Santa Rosa, California, found one day this spring that thieves had removed 58 panels with a value of $75,000 from an office building he owns. His proposed solution is to paint his solar panels bright pink. "At least if someone comes across them and they're painted, they'll know that's my colour," he said.

Law enforcement and the solar industry suggest other approaches to crime prevention.

Many companies now sell secure fastenings for solar panels, while some police departments are urging solar power users to inscribe their driving licence number on the panels.

But some warn that the thieves are too sophisticated to be troubled by such primitive deterrents. Tom McCalmont, who runs Regrid Power in Campbell, close to California's Silicon Valley, said that the sophistication shown by thieves suggests that industry insiders are behind many of the thefts, a suspicion bolstered by supply difficulties with new solar panels.

McCalmont has experience of solar panel thefts: his own company lost $30,000-worth of panels to burglars this summer. "They knew which wires to cut, which not to cut," he said. "This showed a level of expertise that indicated that whoever did it was from the solar industry."

Source - The guardian

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Enerqos Expands Into France And Greece

Enerqos has decided to further build on its growth with the opening of two new subsidiaries in Paris and Athens. "Expanding our European portfolio has always been one of the company's main objectives," declared Marco Landi, President of Enerqos.

"These new subsidiaries are very likely to be followed by other new locations in the coming months. Naturally, each European country has its own specific market characteristics making it unique and particularly attractive. In France for example, we have decided to create a centre of expertise entirely devoted to BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics), the latest development in photovoltaic technology."

Enerqos France and Enerqos Hellas are regional structures, which bring together local expertise. They are not just virtual offices but are in fact fully functioning premises that will soon be able to provide all of Enerqos' clients with the same quality of service that is provided in Italy.

"Our aim is to exploit the group's common knowledge and resources as much for the supply of solar panels as for the availability of other Enerqos solutions, for example the solar park (the 'Esp Flexa' roof) or the Tracker, both designed using our own expertise," added Mauro Marcucci, CEO of Enerqos.

"We aim to become one of the key European players on the photovoltaic market, capable of offering our institutional clients (investment funds and ESCOs) first class operation and maintenance services," added Marco Landi.

At the same time, we want to be able to offer these services on an individual basis where market conditions are most favourable.

In Europe, the photovoltaic sector is a fast-growing market, especially where government funding is successful and numerous countries are starting to adopt this form of energy. We are also looking at the current situation in Eastern Europe and North Africa. Once this sector is established, it will be essential for us to branch out into other countries.

Source - Solar daily

Largest Solar Deployment On A Corporate Campus In US

Applied Materials and SunPower have announced completion of two SunPower solar power systems totaling 2.1 megawatts at Applied Materials' corporate facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif. The systems represent the largest solar power deployment at a corporate facility in the United States.

"This is another exciting milestone in the adoption of solar power in California," said Mike Splinter, president and chief executive officer of Applied Materials.

"More companies are realizing the wisdom of integrating solar as a non-intrusive, clean, silent form of energy generation into our businesses and communities. We've converted our parking lots to power plants and we encourage others to join us in making solar power a meaningful part of the energy supply."

The system includes a 950 kilowatt SunPower PowerGuard installation and a 1.2 megawatt SunPower Tracker installation atop an elevated parking canopy. The SunPower Tracker follows the sun as it moves across the sky, increasing sunlight capture by up to 25 percent over conventional fixed-tilt systems.

Both systems use SunPower solar panels, the most efficient panels available on the market today. SunPower uses Applied Materials' Baccini technology in its solar cell manufacturing process.

Since the first phase of installation in November 2007, Applied reports that its solar installation has generated 1,413 megawatt hours of power. The system is expected to replace more than 2,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from approximately 450 passenger cars.

"Applied Materials has joined the ranks of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force in recognizing the value of solar as a mechanism for reducing exposure to volatile electric rates and promoting energy independence through the use of clean, renewable solar power," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower.

Applied's investment is supported by the federal investment tax credit (ITC) that encourages deployment of renewable energy systems across the U.S. Due to expire at the end of 2008, Congress is now considering legislation to extend the ITC.

"Congratulations to the leadership in the U.S. Senate for their efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement on a long-term extension of the ITC," continued Werner. "According to a new study from Navigant Consulting, an eight-year extension of the ITC would result in the creation of more than 1.2 million job opportunities and $232 billion in investment in the solar energy sector."

Source - Solar daily

UK government knew about energy crisis 7 years ago

With a long, cold winter looming and the rising cost of gas and electricity bills, the nation is wondering just how effective the recently released aid package from the Government is going to prove, and how hard fuel poverty is going to hit them.

This new term describes the situation of anyone who will have to pay more than a tenth of their income on heating their homes this winter. In the last year, electricity and gas prices have reached record highs, going from £942 in the average household at the start of 2008 to more than £1,400. Furthermore, energy companies have warned that a harsh winter could push up gas prices even more as they do not have enough gas in storage to cope with bad conditions.
The outlook for the end of 2008 does indeed look bleak. But this week the Government introduced their energy aid package which resolves to help the estimated 5 million who will suffer from fuel poverty.

The Government have invested £910 million into this plan, which consists of giving pensioners and low income households free cavity and loft insulation to provide long term energy and cost saving benefits. Everyone else will be entitled to top half price energy saving measures, and cold weather payments for the most vulnerable have also been increased from £8.50 per week to £25. For the 500,000 poorest households, there will be a freeze on this year’s bills.

Each of the biggest UK power firms has been made to contribute £50 million towards energy saving funds but many critics of the plan are already predicting that the companies will pass costs onto customers through augmented prices. With the saying that the customer always pays ringing in the general public’s ears, the Government admits that they are powerless to prevent energy firms making their customers pay for this contribution.

The major power firms’ motivations were further highlighted last week when chief executive of E.On, Mark Owen-Lloyd joked during an Ofgem conference that in a worst case scenario, higher gas prices would “mean more money for us.” Mr Owen-Lloyd’s shocking insensitivity sparked outrage across the country, leading some to question why Gordon Brown hasn’t opted to impose a windfall tax on the largest energy companies in order to ease prices.

The Government’s avoidance of enforcing a windfall tax has led to criticism from the gas and electricity watchdog Energywatch, who commented that “lack of political will to tackle fuel poverty is not just disappointing, it approaches negligence.”

However the aid package has won support from much of the press. House insulation has been described as a small, but “sensible” measure that aims to tackle the problem of energy saving, rather than relieve the symptoms of it. As UK housing stock is amongst the least efficient in Europe, cutting down on the amount of heat lost through flimsy constructions is a vital social contribution in cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Times praised the Government’s resistance in choosing the easy option of forcing a windfall tax on energy firms. Acknowledged as the right decision, it said major tax changes should not be brought about under pressure. Adding to this opinion, The Daily Mail predicted that a windfall tax would have distorted the market and driven big businesses abroad.

Whether these small and sensible measures will benefit the thousands of elderly in the North who are the most at risk this winter remains to be seen. The PM’s opposition have questioned whether these ecological and cost-saving actions will actually make a difference to the millions of struggling families and have accused the PM of being out of touch with the nation’s most basic needs. Meanwhile, it is up to the main UK energy companies just how harsh this winter will be for their customers.

Source - Debt Management Today

The future for PV solar panels

Fidelity Investments is the world’s biggest investment manager. It has more than $1tn in its custody, and its hard-nosed managers scour the world to exploit the best profit opportunities. It believes in the efficiency of free markets. Pinko-lefty Guardian types are thin on the ground.

Yet the organisation recently sent five of its top money managers to a solar-power conference in Spain, not because it wants to tackle climate change, but because it believes solar power will be a money-spinning industry of the future. Fidelity is investing heavily in hi-tech solar- and wind-power companies, where German, Danish and Spanish players lead the world.

Colin Stone, manager of its top-performing European Opportunities fund, includes companies such as Denmark’s Vestas and Germany’s Q-Cells in his portfolio. He believes that we’ve only started to scratch the surface of a massive new growth industry. “We have a high degree of confidence that solar will hit grid parity by 2011 in Spain.” In other words, green power will soon be the same price or even cheaper than dirty power. It’s a fabulous prospect.

But thank the Germans rather than the Spanish, and thank old-fashioned state intervention rather than free market economics. As Stone acknowledges, “the application of early government spending has helped to jump-start this industry. Without the subsidies, the whole industry would be many years behind in reaching grid parity”.

The principal subsidy was in the form of a “feed-in tariff” forced on German utilities by Bundestag member Hermann Scheer, who has been a fierce advocate of renewables for more than 20 years. German households and businesses that generate renewable energy can sell it back to the grid at more than triple the market price.

Today in Guardian Money we highlight a small-scale hydro-power project in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. Unlike in Germany, the scheme has to finance itself in Britain’s brutal, deregulated free utility market. It will sell energy to the grid - but only at the price a utility chooses to pay. If such schemes could benefit from a feed-in tariff, they might spring up across the UK. They have in Germany, where 15% of the country’s energy already comes from renewable sources - a rise of 11% in just eight years. By 2030, the 100% target will probably have been reached.

But in Britain, our government is timorous in the face of the energy oligopolies. We dare not upset shareholders with windfall taxes. We dare not impose feed-in tariffs. Instead we launch a £910m package of energy efficiency measures that over a three-year period is equal to just over £50m annually per big-six utility. And they’ll claw that back (and more) with price rises.

On Monday, business secretary John Hutton unveiled a new manufacturing strategy, claiming Britain could create 260,000 jobs in the renewables industry. Given the head start the Germans have in solar and wind, it’s unlikely British companies will now catch up. (Although as an island, the prospects for wave power are intriguing.) Oddly, the Conservatives are promising to introduce a feed-in tariff. It would be a far more agreeable policy for Labour to pinch than inheritance tax giveaways.

Source - The guardian

Saturday, 13 September 2008

SkyPower And Excess Energy Team Up In Solar Power Joint Venture

SkyPower has entered into a new joint venture with Excess Energy, a leading installer of solar power systems in Ontario. The joint venture, called SkyPower Lite, will offer Canadians turnkey solar solutions, and will initially focus on solar hot water solutions.

The effort is an important part of SkyPower's strategic direction, and leverages its experience in large wind and solar development.

"SkyPower Lite is another important step toward building a cleaner and greener energy future for Ontario," said Kerry Adler, President and Chief Executive Officer of SkyPower.

He noted that the pilot project coincides with the Ontario government's 2007 green objectives, which targets 100,000 installed solar systems as part of their innovative 'Go Green' climate change strategy.

"SkyPower Lite is proud to play an important role in this initiative," added Adler.

"This partnership brings together a combination of 15 years of experience in both off grid and grid-tie solar and wind energy systems for light commercial and residential buildings," added Vern Sherwood, Managing Director, SkyPower Lite and former President of Excess Energy.

"Canadians need and want an opportunity to have solar solutions on their roofs as a responsible option to reduce pollution and energy costs."

Source - Solardaily

8 years to pay back solar panels costs

Solar panels are one of the most cost effective upgrades, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The cost of adding solar panels to the average home is between £1,700 - £4,000, and the energy savings are worth as little as £240 a year, according to Rics, meaning it could take as little as 8 years to pay back the price of installation.

The report also reveals that the average cost of replacing a wall-mounted boiler with a more energy-efficient version is about £1,700. But with expected savings of just £95 a year, it would take up to 18 years to offset the cost.

The most cost effective energy saving measure is cavity wall insulation. At a cost of between £440 and £2,400, depending on the size of the home, and an average energy savings of as much as £145 a year, the cost could be paid back over as little as three years.

Joe Martin, director, of Rics’s Building Cost Information Service, said: “We all have a role to play in helping to reduce our carbon footprint, be it through changes to our behaviour or by choosing greener alternatives. The reality is, however, that most people struggle with the cost, time, and effort it takes to make these changes.

“The Greener Homes Price Guide gives consumers a comprehensive heads-up about the costs and effectiveness of green upgrades, whilst protecting them from being duped into changes that won’t save them money or do little to reduce their carbon footprint.”

However, the solar panel industry vigoursly denied the claims. Andrew Lee, head of solar at Sharp Electronics, said. “Rics’s claim on solar panels is massively misleading and potentially damaging for both the UK solar industry and the UK’s renewable energy targets, being based on outdated and inaccurate information. Instead of 50 years plus for payback, most average installations will payback within approximately 12-15 years.

“Solar power works, it’s long term and effective – and it’s more than adequate to meet the UK’s energy demands. What’s more, once installed, solar power is free – and super-green - it can even add up to 10 per cent to the value of your home.”

Less than 100,000 properties in the UK have some form of microgeneration system, such as solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps. In contrast, German householders installed more than 75,000 solar generation systems alone in 2006. In Germany, the Government pays people to generate their own electricity, which is fed into the National Grid.

The research by Rics follows an investigation by Times Money which discovered that wind turbines are rarely cost effective.

A large free-standing wind generator can cost anything from £12,000 to £24,000 to install. But they are only really economic or practical for people in rural areas, particularly those not connected to the electricity grid. Even then, and taking account of electricity fed back into the grid, it would take at least 15 years for them to pay for themselves.

The same goes for ground-source heat pumps. They take natural heat from the ground and boost it to useable levels using a small amount of external electricity.

The Energy Savings Trust, a government-backed group that promotes better energy use, says that a six-kilowatt ground-source heat pump will cost up to £10,000 to install and save as much as £750 a year in energy costs. But heat pumps work best with under floor heating, which can cost a further £20,000 to install.

Source - The Times

Green energy should mean green

Rising energy prices are on course to net the government a windfall of over £1bn thanks to a little-known scheme designed to promote the development of renewable energy.

The disclosure of the substantial sums made through the scheme comes as Gordon Brown has been piling pressure on power companies to plough some of the profits they have made through increased prices into helping cash-strapped consumers.

The government has faced backbench calls to impose a windfall tax on energy firms and has been criticised for rejecting plans for a one-off cash payment to householders to help pay for steep increases in fuel bills.

But after the Guardian revealed details of the government’s own sizable profits through energy sales last night, there were calls for the windfall sums to be used to reduce householders’ energy bills.

The government profits come from a scheme set up in the 1980s to support renewable energy projects by guaranteeing to pay developers building wind, biomass and other non-fossil fuel generation plants a fixed price for their electricity for 15 years.

During the first decade of the so-called Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation scheme, it ran at a loss, paid for by consumers, but over the last six years rising electricity prices have allowed the government to cash in on the energy contracts at a substantial profit.

In total ministers have now taken payments of £585m out of the fund, and have another £218m in the scheme’s account, which is held by the energy regulator, Ofgem.

This year the scheme is expected to make £200m, or more than £7 for every household in the UK.

Last night Charles Hendry, the Conservative shadow energy minister, accused the government of using the scheme as a “stealth tax” and warned it would further damage public confidence in environmental measures.

“If you’re going to tax environmental issues that money should be used for very specific projects for [the] environment, or else to help reduce taxes on families, but this seems to be going into a general pot,” said Hendry. “Certainly it would be in the spirit of it if the money was being used to deal with insulation and energy conservation.”

Energy companies have also complained about the government taking money which they feel should be paid back to customers or used to support new renewable energy.

“The money that’s accumulated was collected with the purpose of achieving environmental ends, and in this regard particularly achieving renewable energy targets, so we think it should be used for that purpose,” said Laura Schmidt, spokeswoman for the Association of Electricity Producers.

The Renewable Energy Association said: “That money is effectively raised for renewables and it isn’t right it should be used not for renewables.”

The government is expected to announce a package of measures next week under which power companies will agree to help impove the energy efficiency of poorer households but it is likley to face difficult questions over why it is not using some of its own energy windfall to help the fuel poor.

Ed Matthew, part of a powerful coalition of lobby groups which will publish a charter on fuel poverty on Monday, said the government’s windfall should be spent on speeding up work to improve insulation in the poorest homes “over and above” what is already planned.

“This is a question of life and death: 20,000 to 40,000 people die every year because of cold in this country, and energy efficiency is the only permanent solution,” said Matthew, head of UK climate for Friends of the Earth. “Huge investment is required and the money has to come partly from companies and it has to come directly from government itself if we’re going to get anywhere close to the kind of investment required to solve the problem.”

Source - The guardian

Friday, 5 September 2008

Sunrise Solar Introduces Solar Building Brick

Sunrise Solar has announced the introduction of a Solar Light Brick for the integration of solar technologies into traditional construction materials.

This innovative technology includes advanced solar cells, an energy storage device and a crystal lighting system that surrounds the energy module in a square or rectangle.

The imbedded solar cell generates electricity when the sun shines and stores it in the storage device. The light is automatically activated after dark. The solar brick can be designed to light in any color.

Potential applications include rural airfields, building lighting, safety lights and decorative lighting. The solar brick can operate without any connection to the electrical grid and can be imbedded in construction materials.

"As we continue to introduce innovative solar products that deliver dynamic energy solutions that can be applied today, we are proud to introduce the 'solar light brick'," said Mr. Eddie Austin, Chairman and CEO of Sunrise Solar Corp.

"This creative product can provide lighting and decoration with no connection to a power grid and can be imbedded in a wall or concrete slab as an integrated part of the structural design."

Soource - Solardaily

Uk government dragging it’s feet on renewables

In two years’ time, the UK seems certain to miss one of the core environmental targets of the Blair-Brown years. The Government pledged that 10 per cent of the country’s electricity would be generated from renewable sources, principally from wind farms, but also including tidal and solar panels.

Press releases from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr) still boast of the target, which was first promised in 2000 and enshrined three years later in the energy White Paper. And in a statement to The Independent on Sunday, a spokesman for Berr insists that all is well and that: “Estimates show there’s more than enough renewables developments either up and running or in the pipeline to potentially meet the 10 per cent goal.”

But the energy industry does not agree. Senior figures point out that less than 5 per cent of electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2007, up from just over 4 per cent the previous year. This is not, they argue, a sign of rapid progress from a country that that has a far less buoyant renewables industry than Germany and Denmark, although it is far windier.

Despite the impending failure, the Government is pushing for still-tougher targets. The Secretary of State at Berr, John Hutton, is currently consulting with energy companies on plans to generate 15 per cent of all energy – that is, transport fuel and heat as well as electricity – from renewables by 2020 in line with EU ambitions. Responses are due next month, and seem set to recommend that one-third of electricity should come from renewables, to make up for shortfalls in heat and transport. The cost of this is £100bn.

James Vaccaro, managing director of the renewables fund at Triodos, a pioneer in ethical banking, offers one of the gloomier predictions for 2010: that the UK will hit around 6 per cent rather than 10. He recalls a civil servant from the then Trade and Industry Department visiting Triodos’s Bristol offices in 2000.

“The official said, imagine the 2010 target as being part of a pie,” recounts Mr Vacarro. “He said small commercial projects were a small part of the pie, but it would be big renewables schemes that took up the major share.”

Mr Vaccaro countered that there were simply not the available resources in the UK energy market to build the massive wind farms needed to provide the 10 to 15GW to generate 10 per cent of all electricity. Instead, the industry had to be built from the bottom up, with a series of small wind farms of around 10MW that would cost in the region of £12m to £14m. He added that the UK had to get used to the idea of the necessity of these smaller schemes.

It’s a view he still holds. As an example, he points to a British Energy/Amec joint venture to build a 650MW scheme off the coast of Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, rejected in April on the grounds that it threatened the island’s bird population.

Planning is one of the big problems for these wind farms. Although there are hopes that recent changes to the planning process, such as fast-tracking major infrastructure proposals and revamping the appeals procedure, will enable schemes to be approved faster, there is a huge backlog of wind-farm applications that councils have to go through.

Gaynor Hartnell, deputy director at the Renewable Energy Association, says there are “reams of projects” in the pipeline, perhaps as much as 14GW, mainly in Scotland. This would correlate with the Government’s claims that there are “potentially” enough developments to meet the 2010 deadline. However, Ms Hartnell says that delays in granting planning permission – there is also a shortage of qualified planners working for local authorities – means that the UK will not hit the 10 per cent target until 2012.

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, a renewables firm that last week announced interim results showing an 18 per cent increase in turnover to £6.3m, is equally critical of the planning system. And while she remains optimistic that the Government can reach 8 per cent renewables in two years, Ms Davenport has a real planning horror story.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has opposed Good Energy’s application to construct a 10MW wind farm, arguing that it could harm its communications ports. However, Good Energy is unable to respond, as the MoD will not provide information on its concerns. Officials say that the relevant documents are classified. “They said that they would not hand them over to us because of the threat of terrorism,” sighs Ms Davenport. “You end up going round and round in circles.”

It is this type of problem, she adds, that has led to the UK having the lowest renewables use as a percentage of all its energy in Europe, bar Malta and Luxembourg. “We’ve got the engineers to build the wind farms, but it’s a difficult market because of the regulatory regime,” she says.

Richard Ford is the UK grid connections manager at Renewable Energy Systems, a company that has developed wind farms for 20 years. What is delaying renewables’ progress, he says, is the difficulty of linking the farms to the National Grid. Faced with a huge volume of applications, the grid will not allow power stations to connect until it has developed the extra capacity required to take the additional power.

Mr Ford would like the grid to manage demand, rather than wait until there is space, since a slot might not be available for 10 years. Planning permission lasts five years in England and Wales, and three in Scotland. As a result, a company can build a wind farm and leave it idle for five or seven years, or it can secure a slot and wait to apply for planning permission, which it might not secure.

“We and others are making applications to the grid before we are certain the developments can be built,” explains Mr Ford. “We would prefer a ‘connect and manage’ approach.”

The Association of Energy Producers believes some progress has been made. Its chief executive, David Porter, points out that just five years ago, renewables projects accounted for only 2 per cent of the UK’s electricity.

Mr Porter’s great worry is that this new target of 15 per cent of all energy coming from renewables by 2020, set by the UK in agreement with other EU states, is much tougher. As wind power is by far the UK’s most advanced technology, with the Scottish government looking into the possibility of a £5bn off-shore grid to connect turbines, it will be the electricity providers that will have the biggest role to play in meeting this target.

He talks of the need to “minimise the cost impact on consumers”, and says a radical overhaul of planning and grid connection is vital “to stand a chance of meeting 2020 targets”.

Already, then, the energy industry is playing down its chances of success at this next stage. Berr can talk up its achievements all it likes, but few in the know appear to believe the department will be able to back this up when the first renewables deadline is reached it in just two years.

Source - The Independent