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Small wind sector accelerating fast among renewables revolution

December 21, 2011

It’s been quite a time recently for discussion of renewable energy policy, in particular the economics of it all. And of course there is nothing the media likes better than a good row. Any number of groups have published reports, held discussions and gone “on air” to air their positions.  All this in the week which saw solar PV subsidies halved. But is there any light behind all this heat? Certain issues have been at the core of this maelstrom of controversy including:

  • The cost to domestic householders of government support for renewable energy
  • The efficiency of renewable energy production
  • The level of support for renewables by the public

Over just a few days we saw claims of a “distortion of the market” by the Renewable Energy Foundation, with economist Professor Tony MacKay saying that “We need to make some big changes in order to get a more sensible renewable energy strategy in Scotland.” The Adam Smith Institute and the Scientific Alliance says that wind farms cannot meet the need for energy.

However Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing begged to differ: “Investing money in the sector now will help keep bills down in future.” he said. “Scotland has huge potential for renewable energy. It has enormous wealth in its people, geography and natural resources and it would be a criminal waste not to take advantage of it.

And Renewables UK said: it was "simply another example of the same little clique of people repeating the same tired old arguments against renewable energy, regardless of the facts". In addition, a report released by think-tank Reform Scotland said Scotland could earn £2 billion a year exporting electricity if energy policy is fully devolved from Westminster.

At Westminster, the idea that renewables are to blame for higher bills for consumers was scotched by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which said increases in bills over the past few years have been largely due to higher wholesale gas costs. Members said offshore wind and other large renewable projects are expected to make up, on average, £48 of a household bill. Solar and other smaller schemes come in at about £6.

US small wind popularity growing

And to take an even broader, international view of Gaia-Wind’s sector, in the US the small wind turbine (distributed wind) market added more than 25 MW in 2010, a 26% increase over 2009 bringing the country's total installed capacity for small wind power systems to around 180 MW.  In a recent report on the US scene, Pike Research, a firm specializing in clean technology markets, says: “The popularity of small wind power systems is not only growing in United States but also in global level and according to the latest Pike research the global market for small wind systems should more than double between 2010 and 2015, to $634 million.”

The survey of the latest YouGov Sunday Times poll of nearly 1,700 people, carried out towards the end of November, reports a clear and significant majority firmly in favour of renewable energy subsidies, wind farms, and solar installations. In fact, nearly three quarters want to see more solar power and 56 per cent want more wind farms, compared to only 35 per cent who want more nuclear and 16 per cent who want more coal power. Almost two thirds think it is right for the government to subsidise wind to encourage investment in new capacity. These results are unambiguous and demonstrate public support for the government's renewable energy policies.

It’s important to take people’s views seriously, but I think the evidence is there for all to see. The renewable energy industry is growing in importance economically and environmentally and the small wind sector is more than contributing its share. We do need to get to grips with the planning roadblocks, we do need to keep making the case and we do need to subsidise what are still early stage technologies in order to gain in the future, and make sure the public understands and agrees with this.

Johnnie Andringa

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