The scale of the renewable energy challenge facing Britain was revealed yesterday by figures showing Britain installed about 270 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on houses in 2007, compared with 130,000 in Germany.

Britain is the worst performer behind Malta and Luxembourg in the EU in its use of renewables and produces only 2% of its energy from them. Last month the EU said Britain must raise that share to 15% by 2020.

Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, acknowledged last week that Britain needs a "revolution" in green technologies and insisted the country was showing "leadership" in the area. But a document leaked to the Guardian shows that Department for Business' grants for households to install solar, wind or hydro-power would be underspent by £10m over the next year. That is more than half the £18m allocated for the three years to March 2009.

The low carbon buildings programme was cut in May when the scheme was reformed, leading many people to give up trying to install renewable technology. For solar PV, the maximum grant was cut to £2,500, making the systems uneconomical.

Lynne Jones, a Labour MP, criticised Wicks for claiming last week that the government's support for renewables was strong.

"That is a pathetic response and the government is giving out misleading information about the effectiveness of the British system compared to that of, say, Germany," she said. Germany installed 1,100 megawatt peak of solar PV capacity last year, equivalent to two conventional power stations. Britain, by contrast, installed 6 MWp. Britain has a total of 16 MWp installed, while Germany has 3,800 MWp, 237 times as much. It is not just solar PV that has suffered.

A breakdown of grant allocations obtained by the Guardian shows a decline across the board. For solar hot water panels, there were 853 grants made in 2007, half the 1,610 in the seven months from May 2006, when the programme started. There were 110 grants for micro wind turbines, compared with 380 in the first seven months of 2006. For ground source heat pumps, there were 30 or 40 grants a month in 2006. In October, November and December last year there were none.

"These appalling figures are a damning indictment of the government's micro- generation strategy," said Ed Matthew, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth.

"Instead of putting Britain at the forefront of developing this key source of carbon-free energy, ministers appear to be doing all they can to kill it off.

Matthew said the government should amend its energy bill to ensure that households and businesses that generate small-scale renewable power and export it to the national grid are paid a premium rate, or feed-in tariff.


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