Slowing the march of solar to save 83p per month
The sun has been producing energy since time began, and only in the past decade have we really learnt how to harness its full potential in a relatively cost efficient way.
Over the past five years the solar industry has evolved at an unprecedented rate – shifting from an expensive, unreliable, and unexploited replacement for fossil fuel power generation to one which is recognised as clean, economical, and increasingly reliable. The reasons for this shift are threefold – firstly costs related to solar generation have dropped 75% (over the same five year period), secondly the introduction of favourable policies and subsidies and thirdly consumer demand for self-sustainability.
Since 2010, the UK has taken advantage of this step change to push on towards its 15 per cent target for renewable energy by 2021. Following a doubling of capacity in 2014 and a further 3GW of capacity added during Q1 of 2015 alone, the UKs total solar capacity now exceeds 8GW – contributing almost 10% towards the UK’s energy needs, or 15% during the recent July heatwave.
With so much good work and progress in the past five years, grid parity just around the corner, production costs continuing to fall, domestic and commercial installations increasing, and energy storage solutions addressing reliability and intermittency issues, why then is the UK government now choosing to meddle and withdraw support for solar?
The Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, has terminated a raft of clean energy programmes and financial incentives since the Conservatives came to power in May – incentives which are claimed by campaigners as still being fundamental for the industry to progress. The removal of the Climate Change Levy Exemption, the shutting down of the green deal within just six weeks due to over subscription and DECC’s recent consultation on current Feed in Tariffs (FIT) which proposes to cut the amount paid for domestic solar arrays from 12.47p per kilowatt hour to 1.63p for new systems from January 2016 – a fall of 87%, are just some of those changes.
Is the government withdrawing support for Solar too quickly?
Solar campaigners argue that the recent speed of change to energy programmes will put at risk the UKs 15% renewable target and undoubtedly stall solar’s drive for parity with fossil fuels. The government’s own impact assessment on the proposed changes to FIT, indicates that 1 million solar installations could be cancelled, while campaigners believe 20,000 jobs could be lost and hundreds of businesses impacted.
Amber Rudd says this action was taken to protect consumers who through their bills pay for these subsidies,
“We need to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way.”
While low bills are important, the UK Energy Research Centre estimated that, solar subsidies cost bill payers just £10 per year or 0.7% of the average annual electricity and gas bill. An undemanding sum by all accounts to the average household in the UK. I for one am happy to pay 83p per month to support the solar industry and in doing so help the UK progress further towards decarbonising its economy.
In my mind we have made too much progress in recent years to stop now, it seems nonsensical that the UK government and Amber Rudd are not putting the continuing development of solar at the top of the energy departments ‘to-do’ list. Solar has proved its worth in recent years – and while intermittency of supply is still an issue, and investment in significant energy distribution is necessary, I believe such investment will be safer and less risky than relying on the relatively unknown impacts of fracking and a nuclear industry heavily reliant on international investors.
With an energy crunch looming, and the true and real threat of regular black outs, perhaps rather than campaigning for nuclear and fracking, the government should look closer to home and take advantage of the solid foundations which have been laid in the solar industry. A tried and tested energy source that has been around since time began, and is clean, cheap, and sustainable. I for one am happy to keep paying my 83p to help the industry. Are you?