John Craven's country matters - Feed-in tariffs

After years of languishing near the bottom of the European league when it comes to producing clean, green energy, a UK scheme gets under way this month that should make us all think seriously about setting up our own mini power stations.

It is called feed-in tariffs (FITs) and what makes it attractive is that if you invest in a wind turbine or some solar panels, you will get paid for the electricity you generate for your own use – and if there is any left, you can sell it into the National Grid. For solar energy, those payments will continue for 25 years, while they’ll continue for 20 years for wind or other methods. So, hopefully, the technology you buy will pay for itself long before the FITs stop.


FIT for purpose?
Already householders and small businesses in more than 40 countries are operating FITs successfully, and many more small turbines are expected to sprout up in the UK countryside. Experts advise against rooftop turbines on urban homes – there just isn’t enough wind to make them pay – and some roofs aren’t big enough for worthwhile solar panels either. But it’s good news for breezy rural communities and people with larger, preferably south-facing, roofs. Though people who regard turbines as a blight on any landscape may not be too happy.
Farmers and growers are not best pleased either. Hopes of increasing their incomes by providing renewable energy as well as food, while saving on their electricity bills, have taken a bashing. Anaerobic digestion (using slurry and other waste to generate electricity) would have been a favourite method, but they say payments are too low to be commercially viable. The government target is 1,000 such digester plants on farms in the next 10 years, but already orders are being cancelled.
Also up in arms are individuals and firms who pioneered micro-generation and installed their systems before last July. They will be paid less than those who are now being encouraged by FITS to take the plunge. So expect political pressure in the next few months to make FITs a fairer proposition all round.

World first
Next April the UK will claim, for a change, a world first in alternative energy when a sister project to FITs, aimed at producing renewable heat, is launched. The result should be a big rise in homes and offices kept warm by wood-fuel boilers, heat pumps and techniques such as bio-liquid (used cooking oils to you and me), with payments of £1,000 or more to an average household taking part.
Despite years of talk, just 0.6 percent of this country’s heat comes from renewables. We do better with renewable electricity, but it still only amounts to 5.5 percent of total production. So action has to be taken; fossil fuels are running out and there are dire predictions of widespread electricity blackouts by 2020.
Of course, we can make our homes more energy efficient by economising on electricity and sealing-in heat. But what neater, more eco-friendly way could there be to insulate ourselves, at least in part, from any forthcoming crisis than to use nature to provide our own power? And be paid to do it, too!

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