Renewables must face up to finance challenges

Leading environmental academic Tom Burke has said that the UK will continue fall short of its renewable targets unless it unlocks massive investment. Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College and […]

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By Kelvin Ross

Leading environmental academic Tom Burke has said that the UK will continue fall short of its renewable targets unless it unlocks massive investment.

Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College and a former director of Friends of the Earth, was speaking at a Westminster debate this week which asked: Renewable Energy. Is the UK on track?

He said: “Are we on track? No. Is there a lot of activity? Yes. Does that mean there is a lot of achievement? No.”

Prof Burke stressed that investors are key to any renewable ambitions. “This is capital-intensive stuff. If you are not spending money, you are not going to get where you are going.

“We are in a very risk-averse climate in which there is no money. This sets an even higher premium on political leadership.”

He said the important thing to investors is not “the price of carbon – it’s the price of money”.

After posing the question, “How are we going to get people to take the risk in renewables”, he said the government’s plans for a green investment bank “can play an enormous part in the way risk is perceived. It can create insurance for bonds to finance renewable energy.”

Chairing the debate, Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said the UK “has the steepest curve to climb” in Europe if it is to meet its renewable energy targets.

Hartnell said that the UK was lagging far behind its European neighbours, with renewables accounting for only 2.3% of total energy consumption.

She said renewables accounted for nearly 7% of electricity use, 1.5% for transport and only 1% for heat, and added that one of the key reasons for the country’s poor track record was that “we have a tendency to focus on one particular silver bullet… we concentrate on one particular technology”.

She said a broader approach was need to encompass the potential of all forms of renewables, particularly solar, in which the UK is one of the technological world leaders, and wind, which she called “the workhorse in the renewable sector” and said offered “huge potential offshore”.

Ms Hartnell was looking to the new government for firm commitments, but stressed: “We need to set some policies in place and not tinker with them. Tinkering leads to complexities.”