William Rickett told those attending a forum on the UK’s Renewable Energy Strategy organised by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum that decarbonising heat supply was now one of the two central issues for his department alongside reducing emissions from transport.
Responding to criticism from Labour MP Alan Simpson about whether his department was ambitious enough, Mr Rickett said: “We are upping our engagement on renewable heat.
“Historically we have not sought to drive renewable heat partly because we had lots of cheap gas coming from the North Sea and the consumer was quite happy to use that to heat their homes.
“All that has changed, the attitude of the Government has changed and the attitude of the department has changed. Give us time.”
Mr Simpson, a leading parliamentary campaigner for Feed-in Tariffs, slammed the department for being “intellectually sterile” and argued that energy policymakers were “locked into dialogue with vested interests who have delivered very little”.
He told Mr Rickett that other countries like Germany were far more ambitious on issues such as biogas from waste – an approach seen as offering the chance to reduce reliance on imported gas supplies.
He said: “One of the reasons that we are so far behind Germany is the obstacles being put in the way of putting gas back into the system. I have had some absurd responses from your department saying we cannot do what Germany is already doing.”
Mr Rickett declined to be drawn on this issue and insisted Germany like the UK would be reliant on gas imports in the immediate future. In his speech he outlined his view on the UK’s priorities:
“I think it is clear from almost any scenario that there needs to be a real step change in the level
of energy efficiency and a doubling of current rates of improvement at least.
“There also needs to be a switch to clean electricity whether it is renewables, nuclear or carbon capture and storage.
“Combined with that is a switch to sustainable bioenergy, biofuel, biomass and biogas. To support that a smart grid (is needed) which enables not just supply to be flexed, but also demand to be flexed to balance things out.
“And quite importantly a shift of our heat demand - traditionally met by gas - into bioenergy and clean electricity.
“That is the future we are heading for if we are going to essentially decarbonise our economy.”
Mr Rickett said the deployment of the number of wind turbines needed to meet energy demands was a “massive challenge” and added: “The shifting away from the heat sector’s traditional reliance on gas to other forms of heating is an equally enormous challenge.”