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Govt sets up office to push renewables

Business secretary John Hutton MP has unveiled plans for a renewable energy nerve centre in Whitehall, signaling stronger Government commitment to green power.

But sceptical industry leaders fear the new body will be toothless unless it is given regulatory powers and takes full control of green energy policy and deployment – currently distributed across Government departments.

Earlier this week Mr Hutton announced he was creating an Office for Renewable Energy Deployment (Ored) to tackle obstacles to renewable energy use, clear supply chain blockages and encourage inward investment.

The pledge is part of a sweeping set of initiatives contained in a new manufacturing strategy, entitled New Challenges, New Opportunities. It spells out Whitehall’s objectives for long-term manufacturing growth, including low carbon industries.

Ored will come on stream as the Renewable Energy Strategy is finalised in spring 2009. Its responsibilities will cover planning advice, fostering technical innovation and improving access to the electricity grid for renewables.

“The creation of Ored reflects the priority placed by the Government on tackling supply chain, planning, grid and other practical deployment issues quickly and effectively,” said a Berr spokeswoman. She added that it was too early to say whether Ored would fall under Berr’s umbrella or how it would be funded.

While Ored will ‘work with’ key stakeholders, including devolved administrations, UKTI and local authorities, it remains unclear how renewable energy policy and deployment will be tightened across Government departments. Responsibility is currently shared by a number of departments including Berr, the Treasury and Communities and Local Government.

The division is a core concern for Micropower Council policy director Jonah Anthony, who is convinced Ored must take full control of decision-making.

He said: “If it pulls together Government departments, producing coherent and cohesive policy, then it could be one of the biggest things to unblock barriers. If it is just a case of shuffling the pack, in other words maintaining the status quo, then there is no point. My fear is that Ored will have no jurisdiction and will become a talking shop.”

Mr Hutton’s suggestion that blocks in the manufacturing supply chain are, in part, responsible for the sluggish take-up of renewable technology has riled some green traders. David Matthews, Solar Trade Association chief executive, insists this is an inaccurate picture.

He said: “There are very few gaps in the product supply chain. Renewable heat technologies are widely available. Future developments lie with a focus on heat storage, building integration and systems control. The individual technologies, such as solar, are nearly all at the mature market stage.”

Strongest criticism comes from the Environmental Industries Commission, which states the Government’s strategy is inadequate to meet the challenge of a ‘resource efficient low carbon economy’.

Commenting on the wider manufacturing strategy, EIC director Merlin Hyman said the strategy was ‘narrowly focused on renewables, low carbon cars and nuclear’.

He added: “There is no mention of the huge opportunities in the energy efficiency sector and no action to promote resource efficiency in the economy.”