The UK government has pledged over $360 million in a series of announcements to promote the development of renewable energy projects over the next three years. The funding is in support of its drive to achieve a target of deriving 10 per cent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

The funding has been complemented by moves to unlock renewable energy projects stalled by planning consent and a change to power plant planning consent intended to boost the use of combined heat and power.

The latest financial pledge is for around $72 million of National Lottery money to support offshore wind, energy crops, small scale biomass and combined heat and power (chp) projects. This will be broken down into $47 million towards constructing plants to use energy crops, $10 million in the form of capital grants for offshore wind projects, $4 million for small scale biomass and chp and the remainder to be used to allow flexibility in the response to proposals.

At the same time the government has promised around $80 million over three years to fund renewables research and development. This money will be used to support a wide range of renewable technologies including wind energy, hydro, solar biofuels and new technologies such as fuel cells.

Meanwhile the prime minister has announced that a further $143 million will be made available to renewables; the details of its distribution will be announced following completion of a Performance and Innovation Unit report. On top of this the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced $17 million in planting grants for energy crops last October.

In spite of government enthusiasm for green power projects a number with potential support under the earlier Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO), introduced when the UK power industry was privatised, remain undeveloped because of their inability to gain planning consent. To alleviate this situation, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has stated that it will allow developers of blocked projects to seek new sites and consent while still retaining their NFFO approval status. An independent survey has suggested that around 100 projects could be affected, many involving wind, landfill gas or hydro exploitation.

In a further move, the DTI will introduce new guidelines for power plant developers that will require them to show that they have seriously explored the potential for using chp technology before submitting their project for consent. The move was welcomed by the Combined Heat and Power Association though it cautioned that the guidelines themselves appeared to carry little weight and only time would tell whether they actually had any impact.

Meanwhile the government is also keen to kick-start the solar energy industry in the UK. A recent report into the state of the industry suggests that the most effective way of developing photovoltaic solar energy is with a sponsored programme to install perhaps 70 000 rooftop systems on domestic and non-domestic buildings. Similar projects in Germany and Japan have achieved notable success.

The development of a photovoltaic industry is expected to provide many new export opportunities. In many regions of the world there are large sectors of the population still without power. Solar photovoltaic systems offer one of the best ways of bringing power to many of these regions.