It's time to stop blaming renewable energy

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Nicolas Molho, head of energy policy at WWF-UK, sets out the case for 60 per cent renewable electricity by 2030

Here at WWF, we're really worried at how the energy debate is currently playing out in the media. Renewable energy and green policies in general are being blamed on a daily basis for rising energy bills. An increasingly vocal lobby is calling on the government to cut support for renewable energy, abandon decarbonisation targets and embrace new forms of fossil fuel like shale gas.

So what's the main reason for recent energy bill increases? It's primarily down to our over-reliance on gas. Between 2004 - when Britain became a net importer of gas - and 2009, the gas price for electricity generation rose by 84 per cent. Over the same period, electricity bills went up by 63 per cent. Whilst environmental policies have a cost, that cost has represented to date a small proportion of consumer bills.

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), climate related policies represented just seven per cent (or £73) of a consumer's average energy bill in 2010 - and the proportion that is linked to supporting renewable energy is even smaller than that because climate policies include other measures such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and energy efficiency measures.

So, given that 80 per cent of the UK's 26.2 million homes are already using gas for their heating needs and that over a quarter of the UK's electricity production capacity already comes from gas plants, do we honestly think that continuing to rely even more on that single fuel is a good idea?

Here at WWF, we don't think so. In fact, on the contrary, we think that hedging our bets by putting more emphasis on energy efficiency and helping boost renewable energy technologies - which rely on energy sources that are abundant in the UK and will never run out - would be a wiser choice.

WWF's Positive Energy report, published today, shows that it is perfectly feasible for renewables to provide at least 60 per cent of our electricity needs by 2030 - and potentially up to 90 per cent. We strongly believe that developing such a sustainable power system in a way that is affordable is possible if the Government adopts a coherent energy policy based on three key pillars.

First, Government reforms should put just as much focus on reducing energy demand as they do on incentivising low-carbon generation. Whilst huge, the potential of energy efficiency remains under-exploited in the UK. Comparison with Sweden makes this all too clear; despite much colder winters and energy prices that are some 50 per cent higher per unit than in the UK, energy bills in Sweden are some 30 per cent lower.

Second, providing long-term investment certainty to the renewables sector - such as through clear renewable electricity targets for 2030 and stable financial support measures - is absolutely key to massively reducing the costs of these technologies for consumers. Policy certainty is key to creating a low-risk climate which would lower the cost of capital, attract investment in a UK supply chain, incentivise companies to mass-produce renewable technologies and boost investment in R&D. All of this is critical to reducing costs.

Third, a more regional approach, whereby we increase our interconnection links with Europe and improve the efficiency with which we share our energy resources could substantially reduce the amount of infrastructure we need to build in the UK. A recent report from the European Climate Foundation found in particular that more interconnection with Europe could reduce the amount of gas power stations needed to secure a European renewable electricity system by up to 40 per cent.

Having a high share of renewable electricity in the UK and doing so affordably may sound like idealist green thinking. But the substantial public support that Positive Energy has already received from major organisations across all sectors of the economy shows that such a vision is far from being idealistic. It's in our interest to achieve it and we believe we should start working on it today.

Nicolas Molho is head of energy policy at WWF-UK

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