At present, only 3% of the UK's power comes from renewable energy, but ministers have agreed to increase this fivefold within 12 years. To help reach this goal, the government has started lobbying the EU over the way the target is calculated.
At a closed session of the energy council of ministers this month, the business minister, Lady Vadera, proposed that British investments in renewable energy anywhere in the world should count as part of UK's effort.
In a speech that astonished European renewable energy companies, environment groups and other EU energy ministers, she said: "It is imperative that cost-efficiency is at the heart of our approach ... Demand for renewable energy projects outside the EU should be considered [part of the renewable target]."
She also appealed to Europe to allow all EU countries to count carbon "saved" from coal-fired stations fitted with equipment that captures harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The electricity generated by this "clean coal" would then count as renewable energy and go towards UK national targets. "Member states might be further incentivised to support carbon capture projects if they were allowed in some way to contribute to the 2020 [renewable] targets," she said.
Environmental groups regard both proposals as a way for Britain to put off or scale back on increasing renewable energy through windfarms, hydroelectric and solar energy initiatives.