The Department of Trade and Industry's Minister for Energy, Brian Wilson, today announced a £4m government grant to develop solar power for public buildings across the UK.

Last October the DTI announced another £4m scheme for sun-powered housing developments throughout the UK, with Wilson cleverly using most of his old speech for the new launch.

"I want to see thousands, rising to tens of thousands of roofs covered by solar panels every year over the next 10 years," repeated Wilson.

The new fund will be used for 18 developments including ones at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia as well as the Arts and Environment centre in Cambridgeshire.

The project will end later this year and proposals are being discussed to extend funding by 20 percent over the next five years. All of last year's funding has been allocated and building is under way.

Solar power, or photovoltaics, is one of the cleanest of all the renewable energy sources and the easiest to install.

But according to BPA (the British Photovoltaic Association) the high cost of installing solar power equipment is still deterring many homeowners from switching from their normal power supply.

The BPA has suggested tax incentives "to encourage people to pay the high cost of the equipment needed", but the DTI has said this is not part of its plans.

The European Commission pledged at this year's UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that Europe would achieve an eight percent reduction in CO2 emissions across Europe by 2012. Carbon dioxide is a major component in enhanced global warming.

Solar power, despite its high cost compared to existing energy sources such as gas and oil, is the cheapest of the renewable energy sources and, according to the BPA "is the only renewable energy technology that is suitable for electricity generation in the urban environment". It also generally requires no extra land.

The BPA's target is for British industry to achieve 15 percent worldwide market penetration by 2010, currently around one percent. But to do this at least £8m of government funding will be needed every year.

"The DTI is placing importance on environmental issues.. and with continued funding we may be able to achieve our targets and ensure all houses have availability to affordable PV equipment," said a BPA spokesman.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has been conducting research into solar power since 1999, contributing funding of £1m a year.

(Picture from Home Power magazine