A rapid and vast expansion of renewable energy is on the way in Britain to help with the fight against climate change, it was revealed yesterday.

In a mere dozen years, the amount of UK electricity generated by renewable technologies such as wind, wave and tidal power will have to reach nearly half the national total, under ambitious plans put forward by the European Commission in Brussels.

The remarkable eight-fold expansion, from today's 5 per cent to about 40 per cent by 2020, or even more, represents a true energy revolution comparable in scale to the arrival of North Sea oil. Most of it will have to be delivered by wind energy, especially offshore, as wind is the most developed technology available.

The number of wind turbines on land in Britain is likely to grow from just under 2,000 now to 5,000, according to the British Wind Energy Association. But the really substantial increase will be in offshore wind, with turbines installed in the seas around Britain's coasts likely to increase from just under 150, to about 7,500.

Meeting the target will also increase pressure on the Government to go ahead with the controversial tidal barrage across the Severn estuary, which is opposed by some conservationists on the grounds that it may damage valuable and protected wildlife sites. But the tidal power the gigantic, 10-mile dam could provide about 5 per cent of Britain's electricity demand on its own. An initial study into the Severn barrage was announced by the Government on Tuesday.

The new renewables regime – which does not include nuclear power – will also mean a rise in electricity prices, with EU officials yesterday suggesting it would be of the order of 15 per cent across the community, on top of any other energy price rises, by 2020. The target outlined is double what the Government had in mind until recently in its most ambitious renewable energy projections, but when it is signed off by the EU member states, which is expected to happen some time in the next year, it will be legally binding. Failure to meet it would mean Britain being dragged before the European Court.


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