By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website
The UK government has unveiled a £30m funding package aimed at promoting renewable electricity sources and reducing carbon emissions.
The fund, called Low Carbon Buildings, is intended to increase uptake of technologies such as solar cells, biomass, and small-scale wind turbines.
Industry has given a mixed reaction, with disappointment that the sums are less than in previous years.
Britain lags behind many European nations in the use of renewable power.
Announcing the new fund, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said that micro-generation projects were an excellent way for individuals, communities and businesses to make a contribution to tackling climate change.
"As these become more widespread, they can help to teach children and future generations about the benefits of renewable energy and the need to use our resources more responsibly," he said.
The Low Carbon Buildings fund replaces two previous government schemes, the Clear Skies and Major PV Demonstration programmes, which have disbursed about £43m over the last four years.
Philip Wolfe, chief executive of the trade group the Renewable Power Association, said he was concerned that the new scheme appeared to represent a fall in funding.
"We are pleased to see the government giving some priority to micro-renewables," he told the BBC News website, "but in terms of the size of funding, it looks like a backwards step.
"It won't accelerate the growth in this sector, and our objective and theirs is that the sector should be growing."
Chris Tomlinson, head of Onshore at the British Wind Energy Association, agreed.
"The total amount of money available for these technologies is still very small in comparison to their potential," he said.
"The best way for the public and industry to respond is to demonstrate its appetite for renewable power by ensuring this scheme is a sell-out and to build a powerful case for even more government action on small-scale renewables."
The industry was, however, pleased that the government has decided to bridge what would have been a gap of at least seven months in funding between the end of the previous two schemes and the start of the new one, by bringing forwards the first grant disbursement under Low Carbon Buildings to February.
No silver bullet
The 2003 Energy White Paper set a goal of stimulating Britain's nascent micro-renewables industry, which has seen a rapid rise in the installation of photovoltaic solar cells, solar thermal hot-water systems, and heat pumps.
The drive has since acquired more urgency, with high oil and gas prices and the growing reliance on imported gas.
Last week, Mr Wicks said some heavy energy users, such as chemical companies, might have to cut back if the winter is colder than average, putting supplies under pressure.
The government is now keen to involve more industrial sectors in micro-renewables, persuading companies in electricity generation, construction and buildings management to invest in the technologies.
Shell, EDF Energy, SSE and Scottish Power are among the companies which have been called upon to support micro-generation.
Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, said: "There is no silver bullet for dealing with the challenge posed by climate change. Energy efficiency will be vital.
"I am convinced there is a great deal more to be done to encourage changes in behaviour which can really make a difference to energy consumption."
But for the house-holder, it is difficult to divorce behaviour change from economics; and the open question is whether the Low Carbon Buildings fund is large enough that the demand for micro-renewables will continue to grow.