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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Progress and prospects in energy efficiency

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

During a debate in the House of Commons Meg gave the following speech on ‘progress and prospects in energy efficiency’.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Ministers, the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to their places. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has been appointed; he has long been interested in these issues and I am sure that he will make a great contribution.


As he said, much of the debate about the reduction of carbon emissions tends to focus on renewables, which, of course, make an important contribution. However, immediate gains are much more likely to come from energy efficiency, so our having this debate today is a positive sign.


If I were to tell the Ministers that there is a technology that could reduce domestic fuel usage by 30%, I expect that they would want to hear about it. If I said the same thing but added that the Government were holding the technology back, I hope that they would ask me what we needed to do to bring the technology along.


However, I have already written to the hon. Member for Wealden about these points, and his response to date has been somewhat lukewarm. Today I shall try to persuade both Ministers to take the claims seriously and take the action required to help bring that technology to the market quickly.


I am talking about micro-combined heat and power, which involves small appliances that are efficient and beneficial for the consumer, and will help the UK reach its carbon reduction targets and encourage manufacturing; hon. Members on both sides will realise that we are keen on manufacturing in Sheffield.


Importantly, such appliances generate electricity in the home, reducing household energy bills at a stroke. Electricity can also be generated for sale to the national grid, giving an income to householders and reducing reliance on large expensive generating plants. I particularly want to highlight one appliance, which is suitable for both the domestic and commercial markets. It is produced by a small Sheffield-based company called Inspirit Energy.


The appliance is the size of a washing machine and the highly effective boiler is a 3 kW electrical system capable of working at 92% efficiency. The appliance can supply all the hot water and heating requirements of a home, up to 70% of electricity needs at peak times, and it can generate up to 50% of a user’s annual electricity consumption. The development of the appliance is well under way and I hope that it will be ready to go to market in the near future. I shall explain why the Government are holding the technology back.


As the two Ministers well know, a particular feature of micro-combined heat and power appliances is that they generate electricity at precisely the times when there is significant demand, helping the national grid to cope. The systems would particularly help the elderly and vulnerable, who may be worried about putting on their heating for fear of the cost. They can heat their homes knowing that the cost of doing so is partly or completely covered. If they sell some electricity to the national grid, they could make a small amount of money back.


Importantly, such appliances could cut the carbon footprint of a home significantly, perhaps reducing CO emissions by up to 70%. These products are intended merely to cover any interim period before the world runs entirely on renewables. However, with development, the units themselves could in time run on renewable fuels such as biomass or solar.


The Minister talked about the important role of Government in this respect, not necessarily in directly supporting the private sector in the development of these appliances, but in providing the architecture, structure or framework that will allow them to develop. One way of encouraging their further development and future sales is through feed-in tariffs.


Around the world, tariff schemes have had a positive effect in cutting the cost of renewable technologies, as well as in creating employment opportunities. Such schemes offer incentives to individuals and companies, by providing clear and effective financial incentives for companies developing appliances for householders and small businesses.


Earlier this year, DECC produced a paper on feed-in tariffs which stated that the tariff should comprise two components: one for total kilowatt-hours generated, and another for kilowatt-hours exported to the national grid. The technologies covered in the paper included micro-combined heat and power, but only up to an electrical capacity of less than, or equal to, 2 kW.


I had already raised this matter in the House, and lobbied the previous Government on it, during the Christmas Adjournment debate in December 2009. I pointed out to Ministers that having an upper limit of 2 kW would exclude the unit produced by Inspirit Energy - and, no doubt, units that may be produced by other companies. The ability to generate feed-in tariffs has the potential to make the unit very attractive, but not having them could impact on the potential return to the company and thus the attractiveness of its further development and manufacture in the UK.


We have already, rightly, spent a great deal of time talking about how we enable people in poorer households to access a wide range of technologies and resources that will reduce their carbon emissions. If householders fear that they cannot get a payback on a boiler of this type, they will be unlikely to invest in it. By having such a low threshold of 2 kW, we are damaging the country’s prospects in what will surely become an important industry of the future. We must change the rules to allow feed-in tariffs for 3 kW appliances. I agree that anything over 3 kW is more suited to industrial use, but excluding a 3 kW machine means that properties with more than three bedrooms are excluded from the micro-combined heat and power programme.


Products such as the appliance being developed by Inspirit Energy could not only help to meet the UK’s target of reducing energy but drastically reduce the excessive use of fossil fuels. This technology can make a major contribution to saving carbon generation. By focusing on what can be done now to make our homes more energy- efficient, we can go a long way towards changing our fuel usage, emissions and ever-increasing fuel bills.


When I wrote to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden, in May, to request a meeting with him, I was advised that the demands on his diary are considerable at present - as I am sure is the case - and that such a meeting could not take place. However, let me say to both Ministers that if they, or anybody here, were to meet the people who are developing this technology, I am sure that they would become as enthusiastic as I am about the product.


Gregory Barker: The hon. Lady knows that I hold her in high regard, but that has increased even more, as I had not previously appreciated what expertise she has in this particular area. May I invite her to come to the Department to join the round table on micro generation that we will be holding - in July, I believe? If she would care to bring representatives from the company in her constituency, they would be very welcome to participate with other stakeholders from the industry on how we can have a more ambitious micro generation strategy.


Meg Munn: I thank the Minister for that very generous offer. I am delighted that in securing the opportunity to have such a meeting, I have achieved the aim that I set myself in making this speech. He is very generous in saying that I am an expert, but indeed I am not; that is the last thing I am. I am, however, persuaded by the experts that this technology that can make a real difference. I am delighted to accept his invitation.


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