Thursday, 11 March 2010

Feed-in tariff 'killing off' burgeoning UK small turbine industry

RenewableUK says inconsistencies in tariff favour solar panels, which takes microgeneration business out of UK

Zara Maung, Wednesday 10 March 2010 13.06 GMT
UK small wind turbine manufacturers say they will lose out to foreign solar panel manufacturers in the race to cash in on the UK government's new feed-in tariff scheme.
They claim their products will be penalised because solar panel owners will receive higher government subsidies than wind turbine buyers. As the arrangement stands, a wind turbine would qualify for 26.7-34.5p per KWh in government subsidies, while solar panels would typically bring in 41p per KWh.
Turbine manufacturers will also have to pay a fee of up to £100,000 to have their models certified for the scheme, and they argue that planning rules make it harder for customers to get approval for turbines.
Due to come into effect on 1 April, the tariff – also known as Clean Energy Cashback – will offer home owners a government subsidy for installing small-scale renewable energy technologies, including solar panels and wind turbines.
Alex Murley, RenewableUK's head of small systems, said: "Small wind is the only microgeneration technology which UK manufacturers dominate the market for. If we don't get this right we could be shooting ourselves in the foot and killing off a burgeoning UK success story."
According to Renewable UK, planning applications for small wind turbines have traditionally taken up to 14 months to process. Britain's oldest surviving small wind manufacturer, Ampair, has accused some local authorities of "systematically rejecting" applications.
The government promises to allow households to install small turbines without planning permission from June, but turbine manufacturers say the current planning allowance is too limited, restricting domestic wind turbines to a hub height of 10 metres and 2.2 metres blade diameter.
This will allow a 1.5KW turbine, producing an average of 800KWh a year in windy conditions – less than a fifth of the average UK household's electricity needs. By comparison, UK panel installer Solarcentury has estimated that the typical 18 metre square domestic solar panel installation would on average generate just over 2,000KWh – nearly half the average household's electricity consumption.
The government's Energy Saving Trust said that although such limitations are fine for urban roof top turbines, wind turbines in rural locations need to be bigger for small wind turbines to generate a significant amount of energy for the UK. It is these rural locations that will generate the lion's share of energy from "small" turbines. EST figures published last year show small turbines could meet 4% of the UK's electricity demands but only 4% of that energy would come from small turbines in urban locations.
UK manufacturers currently produce four-fifths of the country's small turbines, 3,500 of which were installed in the UK in 2008. All larger wind turbines and the vast majority of solar panels are manufactured abroad.
David Sharman, managing director of Ampair, claims the UK government is penalising its own manufacturing industry through inequalities in the feed-in tariff.
He also claims that the rigorous tests to qualify for the tariff's quality assurance certificate, the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), are prohibitively expensive at at £50,000-£100,000 per product certified. No small wind turbines have so far been MCS accreditedbut the government has set up an MCS 'transition list' for small wind turbines, which allows them to temporarily qualify for the tariff for one year while they complete the accreditation scheme.
Responding to criticism of planning restrictions for wind, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We consulted on the proposals to find the right balance for these technologies. We want to enable homeowners to install microgeneration easily and also make sure we're fair about planning permission for larger installations. Different homes will be suitable for different technologies based on a number of factors – it's not a one size fits all."