Planes, trains... and lightbulbs?
15 May 2007
Public Service Review's Matthew D'Arcy takes a brief look at government support for renewable energy sources in UK housing.
Charity, it would seem, is not the only thing that begins at home in the world of today. Over the past decade concern for the environment has rapidly grown in the public sphere. Sustaining the planet is no longer a religion of hippies and carefree students, but, instead, a large bulk of the general public are changing their lifestyles to be more energy-efficient and carbon neutral. Aside from our trains, planes and automobiles, it would seem that the majority of adjustments to life's routines happen where we spend zmost of our time – in our homes.
Whether their reasons are genuine or simply public image motivated, many politicians are capitalising on and nurturing this desire to preserve the environment. Malcolm Wicks, for example, in his former capacity as Minister for Energy in the Department for Trade and Industry (now Minister of Science and Innovation) has shown support for renewable energy sources. Speaking at the 'Sustainability: Microgeneration' Conference at the University of Brighton in June 2006, Wicks emphasised the role of the individual in reducing UK carbon emissions, making many references to efforts that can be taken in the home. "At the moment", he said, "we are all part of the problem – in terms of how we use and abuse energy in our homes and modes of transport. But we can become part of the solution. We can move from being passive consumers to taking a more active approach to environmental issues. This is starting to happen. More of us are aware of the need to conserve our resources and so are recycling [more] than ever before. Awareness of climate change is rising, but we have not yet made a similar step from awareness of an issue, to taking action." Wicks went on to discuss ways to encourage adaptation in the home in order to realise "a future where solar panels, heat pumps and even micro-wind turbines are seen on every street".1
Wicks' comments firmly reflected the purpose of Phase 1 of the DTI's Low Carbon Buildings Programme. The scheme, launched in April 2006, is designed to allocate funding for microgeneration technologies to householders, public, not-for-profit and commercial organisations across the UK.2
The housing element of this project is currently under review, in part due to the extremely high demand for funding, which has been increased by the Chancellor in the recent budget.3
Importantly, though, the venture represents government action to assist the public in becoming more eco-friendly in their lifestyles, through the implementation of far less harmful fuel sources in their dwellings.
Support for renewable energy in the home has continued to encounter growth in the House of Commons right to the highest levels. Even on the very day of writing this article (4th April 2007) news headlines demonstrate government support for forms of renewable energy in housing. In particular, the media reported on an announcement by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly of plans to relax planning permission regulations on the installation of solar panels and wind turbines on average UK homes. She stated: "I believe that the local planning system should support efforts to tackle climate change rather than acting as a barrier, but it is important that we ensure that there are clear, common-sense safeguards on noise, siting and size and that the unique features of conservation areas are protected."4
This short article has only scratched the surface of efforts in place to encourage and ease the incorporation of alternative and renewable energy sources into UK households. However, despite the fact that the Government is increasing investment in renewable energy, the question still remains as to whether they are doing enough. Demand, it would seem, does outweigh supply in terms of funding and so it will be interesting to see the outcome of the DTI's review of the spending allocation for microgeneration technologies to households. In the meantime, though, statements such as those from the Department for Communities and Local Government are at the very least steps in the right direction.
3 A recent BBC report highlighted that in March the £600,000 monthly allocation limit had been reached in just one hour and 15 minutes, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6480267.stm