What Happens to the RHI Beyond April 2016?

RHI Cuts

There have been rumblings in the renewable heat industry for some while, particularly following the Government’s cuts to the Feed in Tariff, a similar project that was designed to promote the uptake of renewable energy such as solar and wind. Uncertainty can effect an industry deeply and cause major problems, not only in the short term but for long term success.

The current RHI funding is due to run until April next year but what happens after that is largely a mystery. Not a good sign for an industry that is beginning to show real benefits across the board. Whilst the Government forge new links with China and sign some landmark deals, there are many smaller businesses throughout the UK who are unsure what the future holds.

What is the RHI?

The Renewable Heat Incentive is a subsidy, paid through our own utility bills, that provides an incentive for homes and business owners to install green heating such as biomass boilers and heat pumps. From reasonably high payments in the initial stages, with growing demand the tariffs have halved since the scheme began back in 2011. When the RHI was rolled out to domestic schemes over £20 million in payments resulted, something that Government feel they need to keep control of. There has always been a limited budget for the scheme and reductions in the tariffs were expected by businesses operating in the industry.

Biomass Plants in Wales

It’s not all bad news for renewables, however. A biomass power station is now going to be built in Anglesey following major investment from a Chinese company. Another is expected to be built in Port Talbot, providing a large number of jobs as well as a cleaner energy mix for the area. The area around the power stations will be used to produce aquaponics facilities to develop a prawn and shellfish farm while a hydroponics installation will be able to grow fruit and vegetable in the nearby water. It’s good news for a region that only a few years ago suffered from the loss of 400 jobs when the local aluminium plant was closed.

According to the BBC:

“The Anglesey biomass project pledges to deliver up to 500 jobs on the site of the former Anglesey Aluminium plant at Holyhead. It hopes to create 120 jobs directly in the energy plant and more than 300 jobs producing seafood, fruit and vegetables in the adjoining eco-businesses.”

Uncertainty in the Industry

With the wider biomass industry unsure of what next year will bring, the plants in Wales, whilst welcome, are a distraction from the core issues. It’s the future of the RHI that matters and many smaller suppliers and installers will undoubtedly begin to feel the pinch if the programme is not renewed in April next year.

That’s not just installers of home heating such as biomass but also heat pumps. Many of these companies offer a range of installations including solar panels and could face a double blow in the first half of 2016.

The Future of Innovation

Much has been made of the impact reductions in subsidies are going to have on many parts of the renewables industry and whether this is a huge backward step by the UK remains to be seen. The other side of the impact is on research and development.

If we are going to curtail the green agenda then what is the point of our universities working to bring on the current technology? Is there a point in increasing the efficiency of solar cells when we no longer have an industry to speak of and everyone is getting their energy from brand new nuclear plants? Whilst we remain on a tipping point with renewables the industry and the research is going to have difficulty moving forward. That includes the renewable heat sector who have yet to realise the full impact of a sector that is increasingly unsure of its place in the UK.

Can the Renewables Industry Create Enough Noise?

No FIT Cuts

Public opinion, when galvanised, can achieve great things. Get your story on the news, keep it there and previous policies that seemed set in stone begin to waver. Take the current furore over tax credits. There’s plenty of negative press for the Government, professing to be on the side of ordinary working people, and if the Lord’s decide to block the legislation when they debate the issue next week, we could see something of a U-turn in the days to come.

Most of us, unless we have been hiding in a bunker, are aware of the migrant issue and those fleeing the trouble in Syria and surrounding regions. Voices have been loud, tough and unwilling to compromise, pushing the Government into an uncomfortable corner.

It’s a different story for the renewables industry, however, now under threat in a way it has never been before. Getting the story out there and making people angry enough to complain is proving more difficult. Yes, there are the usual, vociferous advocates who bang their fists and talk of the meltdown of the green agenda. But ask most ordinary citizens if they are aware the industry is being damaged by a Government that is intent on cutting costs and you may get a polite shrug.

Even the announcement that we are going to spend billions on a new nuclear plant whilst other countries like Germany are moving away from the technology is only likely to engender a wistful scratching of heads amongst the general public. Tell them their fuel bills are going up 5% this winter and they’ll be out on the street with banners and pithy chants.

The truth is there may not be enough noise to save us from the Feed in Tariff cuts before the changes come in force early next year. We may not realise the impact on a national level until renewable projects start to fail and close because they are no longer viable. By then, it will be too late. It may already be.

The fact that a number of solar companies have folded or packed up and left because of the impending Feed in Tariff cut has been superseded by news that our steel industry is in meltdown, pumped to the top of the agenda by the timely (or untimely) visit of China’s big cheese. Despite most news outlets on TV and in the press running the story of a respected UN scientist calling the Government short sighted in their approach on renewables, it hardly made a splash with the general public.

Alas, that is just what the renewable industry needs. Industry leaders may take the time to write group letters to David Cameron but their voice, unfortunately, is not as powerful as the nuclear and fossil fuel lobby who subsist far more freely than our much needed energy alternatives. There is news that the oil and gas lobby are moving on the climate change summit in Paris this November, demanding that they are given a fairer deal (as if several trillions of dollars of worldwide subsidies weren’t enough).

There are just a few short months to go before the FiT cuts come into effect. Before then we have the results of the consultation that the Government will do their best to ignore even if it says that those tariffs should remain in place to support the industry. Whilst the Solar Trade Association is this week professing that solar could provide the same power as Hinkley at half the subsidy cost, no one seems to be listening.

According to Head of Policy Mike Landy:

“We are not saying that solar is the solution to all our energy problems, nor that it could completely replace other technologies. However the Government needs to explain why it is drastically cutting support for solar energy whilst offering double the subsidy to Hinkley Point C. It also needs to explain why it is championing overseas state-backed utilities over British solar companies which given stable support would have considerable growth prospects.”

Unless something remarkable happens within the next few months, we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that the renewables industry is going to flounder. Without the combined noise of the industry, investors and, more importantly, the people, the Government will be free to do what it sees fit, even if they have no idea what they are actually doing.

From Hero to Zero: The UK’s Fall from Renewable Grace

From Hero to Zero

It hasn’t taken long for the UK to fall from being one of the world leaders on renewables to suddenly lagging behind the rest. With the Paris Climate Change Conference in November, David Cameron might have difficulty convincing other world leaders that he is serious about reducing carbon emissions after dealing several deadly blows to the renewables industry in recent times.

The problem is that most other countries are still showing their commitment, even Australia who recently found themselves on shaky ground, seem to have received a fresh impetus and are now talking up renewables in more certain terms.

What the Rest of the World is up to

In the US, according to Renewable Energy World:

“All federal agencies, including the U.S. military, have now been directed to ensure that by 2025, at least 25 percent of their total energy consumption will be from clean, renewable energy sources. They also were directed to reduce energy use in their facilities by 2.5 percent between 2015 and 2025.”

Even the country’s military installations are embracing renewables big time with housing made more efficient and the building of solar projects in areas such as Fort Bliss in Texas and the naval base at North Island, Carolina.

Australia, which for a while has been on the back foot in the renewable stakes, is now boasting that it can become a centre of innovation for solar storage. The recent election of a new liberal government in Canada is sign that the country may now start leading the way on the climate change agenda. Google is currently investing in one of the largest windfarms in Africa. Pick any country across the world and you will find a hive of renewable activity. It seems a large part of the globe is committed to the renewable agenda.

Cutting the Renewable Lifeline

The consultation for the renewable subsidy cuts closes on Friday 23rd October and unless it comes up with some radical solutions we could see major changes in the renewables industry within just a few short months of the change being implemented early next year. The cost to the UK could be catastrophic, not only locally but to our international standing on climate change. It may not only mean the death of businesses delivering installations such as solar panels but also knock back many community projects that are in development and are planned for the future.

Lagging Behind the Joneses

It’s not just people are at home who are largely puzzled by the Government’s approach to renewables. Staunch advocate of the need to tackle climate change Al Gore used a recent speech to say that he feared Cameron and his cabinet were making a huge mistake and would compromise the UK’s standing as a leader on the climate change agenda.

It’s not just the left leaning press that is getting on the back of the Government over cuts to subsidies either. The Telegraph, strong supporter of everything Tory, reported that ending the onshore subsidy for windfarms would save bill payers just 30p a year, a damning indictment after Amber Rudd proposed it would save us a lot of money, one of the main reasons for implementing the cut.

According to the Telegraph, even if a large number of wind turbines were blocked by the cut, the cost to the bill payer would be nominal:

“According to the impact assessment, DECC’s central estimate is that the change will prevent consumers paying an extra 30 pence a year, or 0.05 per cent of an annual electricity bill. In DECC’s highest estimate, 2.5 GW of turbines could have been blocked, saving households £3.40 a year, while in the lowest estimate the change will have made no difference at all.”

Damage to Investment

The one thing that may well hasten the end of renewables in the UK, more severely than the Government would like to admit, is the reluctance of investors to get their cheque books out. A number of notable withdrawals have happened already with Drax pulling out of its carbon capture project in Yorkshire. Expect more reluctance in the future as big money looks elsewhere to invest in renewable projects. Unless the Government performs a u-turn or subsidies or comes up with a radical new solution to protect the industry, it could be a cold winter and spring for solar, wind and renewable heat.

The End of Pre-Accreditation and the Impact on Renewables

DECC

With all the furore around cuts to the Feed in Tariff recently, the end of pre-accreditation may have past most people by. This happened on the 1st of October and could well leave many projects that are ongoing on tenterhooks about the level of subsidy they are going to receive in the future.

What was Pre-Accreditation?

For projects that are going to take a while to complete, pre-accreditation was particularly important. It meant that before the installation was up and running businesses and investors could be sure they were going to receive a particular Feed in Tariff for the electricity they produced and that this would not be altered. It gave investors and the developers the confidence to undertake large projects without worrying that the goal posts would be moved and the financial benefits diminished if the Government suddenly decided it want to reduce subsidy levels.

According the Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary:

“Our support has already driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly. As costs continue to fall it becomes easier for parts of the renewables industry to survive without subsidies, which is why we’re taking action to protect consumers, whilst also protecting existing investment.”

It’s an argument that has been used a lot in recent times and seems to be the mantra that the Government feels explains all. Except that it doesn’t. It particularly doesn’t explain where investors are going to find the confidence to invest if they are not at least partly sure of their return.

Uncertainty in the Market

Not being sure is damaging to any business, particularly the burgeoning renewables industry. Back in July, warnings were issued that getting rid of the pre-accreditation would not only damage investment in projects such as off-shore wind but would also dramatically increase the amount the projects would end up costing. It will mean that local communities who may have been thinking about clubbing together and developing their own power sources will almost certainly think twice.

(Incidentally, the Government is planning a big new nuclear power station. According to the Telegraph way back in 2013, this was set to cost the tax payer some £17 billion as a conservative estimate. That’s more than the cost of building the plant itself.)

It’s one thing to take a punt on a project when you know you are going to get a reasonably good return and another to take a leap of faith and hope it all turns out well. As we keep saying at the Hub, the renewables industry is not averse to the reduction in support but they feel the current timing is inappropriate and the scale of it just too great for many projects to maintain a façade of viability.

Opposition within the industry to removing the pre-accreditation was almost universal. In an article in PV Magazine in September they quoted the results of a Solar Trade Association poll that showed:

“…just 16 out of the 2,372 respondents supported DECC’s proposal to scrap pre-accreditation, yet the government has once again ignored this ‘overwhelming opposition from across the renewables industry and beyond’.”

The problem with the reduction in the Feed in Tariff planned for January next year is that it could go through in just the same way as the cancelling of pre-accreditation – people are voicing their opinions but it seems nobody, at least in Government, is listening.

With major media distractions such as the sudden and catastrophic demise of the steel industry in recent weeks, it is going to be difficult for the renewables industry to get its voice heard unless every one joins in over the next couple of months.

 By Steve M.

Is the RHI Next in Line for Big Tory Cuts?

RHI Cuts

The Renewable Heat Incentive is a Government programme that allows you to earn money from a selection of sustainable heating technology such as biomass boilers and air source heat pumps. Similar to the Feed in Tariff for electricity production, the RHI has a number of different payments depending on the type of heating you have installed.

The scheme was initially introduced in 2011 to help non-domestic businesses and organisations including schools, care homes and hospitals to switch to greener ways of heating. It was then broadened out to include domestic properties and has been a popular innovation that has created jobs in the industry and helped to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

There is, of course, a limited budget for the programme and the levels of subsidy have naturally reduced over time. For instance, in April 2014 the tariff for biomass boilers and stoves was just over 12 pence but had reduced to 6.43 pence in the recent adjustment at the beginning of October.

As with the Feed in Tariff, the industry has said that any more proposed cuts to the RHI could well signal closing time for an industry that currently employs over 30,000 people across the UK. In the Financial Times at the beginning of September, much was made of the possible impact that the uncertain future of the RHI was beginning to have on the market and investment:

“A lack of clarity about the scheme’s future has already affected a water heat pump project in north London aimed at drawing heat from the Regent’s canal to warm local homes and businesses. Scotland’s Star Renewable Energy Company said it had reluctantly decided to pull out of the venture because it was not clear if RHI payments would be available.”

With its growth in popularity more money is being taken up from the budget of the RHI. Last year alone this equated to £424 million and is set to rise even more this year. That presents a problem in curbing the amount being spent by a government that is committed to keeping the impact of spending on renewables as low as possible. As with the Feed in Tariff, the RHI is funded by everyone contributing through higher energy bills rather than through direct money from the Government coffers.

The question arises is how we can reduce our carbon footprint by removing subsidies from valuable contributors such as the renewable heat industry? Absence of any commitment to keeping the RHI going beyond 2016 means that larger initiatives are going to be far less likely in the wake of the Government’s proposed scathing cuts to the FiT.

In short, there seems to be have been less collaboration from the Government with the renewables industry and more active culling which is surprising since Amber Rudd wrote in her DECC blog earlier this year:

“Creating a simple energy tax system that rewards energy and carbon saving, and allows businesses to increase productivity, support growth and ensure their place in a competitive global market, cutting red – or green – tape and bureaucracy. We want to collaborate with industry and the wider green economy sector in the coming months to ensure we develop a framework for simplicity and stability.”

Perhaps the more worrying thing for the RHI and other subsidising incentives is that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of an alternative that the industry can latch on to for some degree of stability. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any coherent plan at all. In the meantime, investment suffers, business are beginning to struggle, with some actually going to the wall, and our contribution to climate change and a more independent energy infrastructure remain at risk. Many in the industry feel that the lack of a clear direction from Amber Rudd and the DECC has muddied the waters so much that it is going to be all but impossible to now navigate a safe path through to a greener future.

 By Steve M.

Why oh Why Are We Spending Billions on Nuclear?

Hinkley Point nuclear power station

At the energy and climate change select committee this week, energy minister Andrea Leadsome was up before the board to try and shed some light on current Government policy. Apart from her annoying habit of prefacing important points with the governmental staple ‘absolutely’ (as in ‘we absolutely have no plans to reduce subsidies’), she did say a few revealing things.

When asked if government was unnecessarily frugal with renewable subsidies but prone to be a lot more lenient when it came to nuclear, she replied that they were committed to addressing the energy security of the UK. A strange confession when the plant is going to be largely part owned by French and Chinese interests with subsidy payments over and above anything that the renewables industry has ever achieved.

It caused a damning comment from Friends of the Earth CEO, Greg Bennett who said:

“Ministers defend this with tired old language about ‘bill-payers’, ‘hardworking families’ and solar needing to ‘stand on its own two feet’. But they are applying exactly the opposite logic for new nuclear, where they’re happy to guarantee inflation-proof taxpayer subsidies at twice the market rate for the next 35 years.”

The Cost of Going Nuclear

The Hinkley Point nuclear power station is perhaps one of the most divisive developments on the books at the moment. It is owned by the French company EDF and looks as though it will cost at least £24.5bn. The government has promised to pay £92 per MW hour which is twice the current market price.

Not only that, they will be paying it for the next 35 years.

To add insult to injury, the Government is banking on the Chinese putting in some £11 billion of investment. The truth is the new Hinkley Point power station will not belong to us and we may well have no say over the rise in fuel bills produced by it over the next three or four decades.

The reason that the UK has gone to China for more investment is that because investors close to home are concerned about project overrun and rising costs. The technology that is going to be used has encountered problems before and is indeed not going to be used by EDF on future building projects. According to the Telegraph:

“The troubled European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) technology that is due to be used at Hinkley is to be ditched by EDF for future projects in France in favour of a cheaper and better model the company is now developing, Jean-Bernard Levy, the French energy giant’s chief executive disclosed.”

In the end, building a power plant at Hinkley Point could well cost more in the long run than the whole of the renewables industry put together.

Is Nuclear Being Developed at the Cost of Renewables?

Despite the Government guaranteeing a loan of £2bn for the project to help boost investment, you’d be hard pressed to find takers in the current climate. It seems odd that they are on this path when most of the general public are not in favour of building new nuclear power plants. Whilst cutting the subsidies for renewables through the Feed in Tariff there seems, as the parliamentary select committee voiced, a disconnect between the nuclear and fossil fuel industries which have always benefited from such measures and the cleaner, perhaps more economical green energy market. It isn’t helped by wild assertions that the renewable industry costs a large amount in subsidies. One report stated that the wind farm sector adds some £250 onto an average duel fill bill. The correct figure is actually around £18.

Add onto that the fact that many people in the country support the renewables industry and it is a mystery why the Government is so keen to build expensive and potentially dangerous power plants that are set to cost more.  At the parliamentary committee, Leadsome spouted the old tired rhetoric concerning the need to keep spending under control. It seems that the DECC’s energy policy is becoming more confused than ever.

The shining light on the horizon may well be the consultation on changes to renewable subsidies that ends shortly. Leadsome has said she is ‘open minded’ about the findings. But, as with most things concerning this government and the future of energy, nobody is quite sure what she actually means.

 By Steve M.

Why Batteries, the Solar Industry and Independence Threaten the Future

Solar Power Storage

When we first embarked on the huge task of saving the planet, few of us realised the impact new technologies such as solar would have. The truth is, most governments thought the renewables industry would be a failure. Now, with the growing potential to store our own solar produced electricity, are the powers that be getting cold feet?

There’s been much in the news recently about the cuts in the Feed in Tariff which many predict will have a catastrophic effect on the solar industry. It seems the Tories have called time on the renewables industry much to the chagrin of those in favour of clean energy. But could a solution be just around the corner?

Here’s a scenario that the utility companies, and indeed the current government may not particularly like: What if we all had solar panels on our roofs and a system to collect the electricity we generate ourselves and store it?  We don’t buy our power off a third party – we actually create our own and become energy independent. What if we don’t need to pay those energy companies a penny for our electricity? All we need is the right infrastructure at home.

The Companies Leading the Way

Earlier this year Tesla shook the renewables industry with news of their solar storage battery and how it could revolutionise how we view electricity production. Other manufacturers have lately come out with their own models of the battery, including Samsung, with a number of installers now offering a hybrid solar panel and storage mix to new and existing customers. With the Feed in Tariff under threat, which has largely been responsible for the uptake of solar technology, this could present a significant change in how the solar industry operates and perhaps even save it in the UK.

The Cost of Storage

Tesla initially announced the cost of its solar storage battery at around £10,000 but recent developments and competition has brought this down considerably to around £2,000 for a 7-10 kW battery. Weighing in at around 100 Kg the Powerwall is certainly a hefty piece of kit and takes up a decent amount of space but it could provide you with the power you need when the sun isn’t shining. With other players now getting into the market, expect prices to fall some more in the future.

A Two Tier Energy Country

Of course there is a problem with this energy independent scenario. As things stand currently, those with the money to install solar panels and the new range of batteries will be able to afford it. That means those on low incomes will be left behind creating a two tier system that is untenable for a large part of the population. It also means that the way current policies work, the Government is asking utility companies to take an active part in their own demise by helping people on lower incomes to become more energy independent.

Here’s how the Government solves the problem: We put the brakes on and stifle the renewables industry. We cut tariffs and other subsidies and making it difficult for the industry to expand any more.

Why the Government Really Doesn’t Like It

Let’s face it, the Government gets a good deal of tax revenue from the utility companies and if we all rush off and become independent they are going to lose a lot of money. There’s always been an elephant in the room where renewables are concerned. If you give people the way to produce their own electricity then where is the need for big, multinational companies? Why do we need a national grid when regions, towns and cities can put in the infrastructure to produce their own power?

We can now produce our own power. The technology is available. And what’s more we can make the world a better place whilst we do it. Yes, there are still a few more miles to travel but we’re getting there. Most world governments really didn’t expect the renewables industry to take off the way it has. Call it being short-sighted, call it a lack of understanding, but most people in the power industry were not prepared for those renewable fanatics to actually deliver.

The Future of Renewables at Stake

The renewables project is undoubtedly facing its biggest challenge in the UK, particularly when it comes to solar. With the Government backtracking on not only its international commitment but its moral one, we have approached a tipping point. Recent research has shown that wind power is now the most economical form of energy but subsidies have been removed in the name of progress by a group of misinformed politicians who are more concerned about votes – pandering to that part of the electorate who wouldn’t know their twin turbine from their hydroelectric plant.

Over the last couple of years the renewables industry has started to surge forward. To turn back now is a travesty and something this Government may well be remembered for. This is an ongoing project, one that is beginning to produce tangible benefits to the UK and across the globe. If we want a truly independent energy infrastructure that benefits everyone, not just the big companies, we need to keep supporting it.

That means keeping Feed in Tariff subsidies but it also means becoming an international lead in developing storage technologies for solar power that push the boundaries. We have several powerhouse universities that can help to develop this technology further. Perhaps rather than ploughing so much money into subsidies for fossil fuels we should be betting on a cleaner and greener future.

Learn more here about Batteries for Solar Panels

By Steven M.

The Inventor Hoping to Make the Most of Our Wind

kite power solutions

Building turbines out at sea is an expensive business, costing millions and producing a landscape that many are unhappy with. The perennial problem of how to utilise the power of one of our most valuable and readily available resources – the wind – has taken a turn for the more eclectic recently.

Whilst some scientists are looking at how underwater kites can make a difference to energy production, others are going the more obvious route. Could offshore kites harness the power of the wind and become a major player in the energy market? It’s been tried before but with various problems to overcome no one has yet come up with a successful solution that provides enough power to make production viable.

Bill Hampton is your archetypal inventor with plenty of enthusiasm and a gift for thinking out of the box. In his home county of Essex, he’s often seen flying a kite, trying to work out the best and most efficient way for harnessing all that potential power. His company, Kite Power Solutions, is relatively new but is making great headway in developing the technology that could well revolutionise wind power in the very near future.

According to Hampton, using kites has a number of distinct advantages over traditional wind farms. First of all they are more mobile and can be connected to a floating platform rather than a rigid construction. Secondly they aim to reduce the cost of wind power production by as much as 40% when used off shore.

Hampton is no stranger to innovation and he worked for a long while in helping to design and construct luxury yachts before deciding to set out on his own. Developing the power producing kites wasn’t purely a desire to make a contribution to the landscape of green sustainability. It was far more about the technical challenge of developing a new technology.

How it works
How it works

His ideas have been so well received that oil giants Shell and the Department for Energy and Climate Change have both helped add investment monies of £3 million in order for the research and design team at Kite Power Solutions to further progress their work. His plan is to develop a kite network off shore that can in part replace the expensive turbines already constructed.

In its current incarnation, two kites are attached to a platform and fly in a figure of eight, turning a tether to drive a turbine. The kites can be winched in and out to gain the maximum wind power to generate a significant amount of electricity. At full production they will be able to reach a maximum height of 750 metres and will be in the region of 40m wide, able to generate in the region of 2-3 MW.

There are of course a few hurdles to get over before we see the first kites off shore. First of all there is the impact of storms and particularly lightning strikes as well as how to co-ordinate a number of kites automatically and without collisions. Hampton is confident that all these problems can be overcome.

Of course, the team at KPS are not the only ones trying to harness the energy of the wind using kites – Makani have teamed up with Google to undertake a similar project. It may not be long before we see impressive looking kites on the skyline, driving power to our homes and lighting up our streets.

 By Steven M.

Who’s Fighting Back Against Renewable Energy Cuts?

Government FiT petition

If some people had their way Fylde would now be a centre for fracking. Protesters have continuously opposed Cuadrilla who wanted to set up an operation there and now the local council has given it’s blessing to a new solar farm.

It could be a sign that the Government’s love affair with fracking is not shared with many outside the auspicious surrounds of Whitehall.

Anti Fracking Protest
Anti Fracking Protest in Sussex

Can We Survive Without FiT?

If you look at the news, it might seem that business is beginning to run from investment in renewables with the promised reduction in the Feed in Tariff and the slashing of other subsidies for technologies such as wind farms. There has been much stamping of feet and gnashing of teeth from green supporters but the big question may be whether the industry can survive and prosper without the lifeline of subsidies.

It could be that the Government is underestimating the British love affair with renewable energy. When plans of the solar farm initiative in Fylde were announced recently, a spokesperson for the resident’s action group commented:

“As well as providing green energy, the plans for this site will enhance the biodiversity of our area, unlike those of Cuadrilla, which are set to destroy natural habitats, pose a threat to public health, destroy our agricultural and tourism industries, and contribute to global warming.”

And the council found that a large proportion of its residents wanted a green energy solution which is why they knocked back the fracking plans, something that other councils are starting to follow. Despite the urge of the Tories to kick renewables into the long grass for the foreseeable future, we may well have come too far to turn back now.

Bringing Pressure to Bear

On October 1st, renewable associations produced a joint letter to the government over their concerns to changes in the Feed in Tariff. This included the stark reminder that:

“This change is bad for business and bad for energy security. Renewable energy is not a ‘nice to have’: It generates more electricity than coal and provides employment in manufacturing and the rural environment.”

Read the full statement here.

Meanwhile, some major corporations are beginning to sound off about the proposals. Panasonic, the electronics giant, have already called on the Government to think again about their policy of reducing subsidies for solar panels, particularly for home owners. It included an impassioned plea from their UK manager:

“Let’s keep [the industry] alive, let’s help it further develop to become fully independent from state support, with energy storage and a closer involvement of utilities. But let’s not push the bird out of the nest before it can properly fly.”

Previously organisations as diverse as the AA have made their opposition to cuts to subsidies known, believing that it is a retrograde step that can only bring major disadvantages to the energy industry. And recently a prominent academic, Robert Gross, from Imperial College London, labelled the Government’s renewable energy policy as incoherent and confused, something that was damaging investment in the future energy infrastructure of the country because of uncertainty.

The truth is there are plenty of supporters for renewable energy out there who are rightly incensed about the current plans. The issue is whether they can all gather together to produce enough pressure to create a U-turn. The smart money is on this happening but with so little time left it needs to be a co-ordinated effort that doesn’t take its foot off the pedal.

Now is not the time to leave the job to everyone else. If you want to add your voice to the current debate then sign the online petition today.

By, Steven M.

Solar School Charity Now Unviable

Solar Schools

On the face of it, a charity working to put solar panels on the roofs of our schools is a great idea. But the Government’s proposed changes to the Feed in Tariff in January have put the project at risk and may well see the charity close next year if the decision to cut subsidies is not reversed.

What is Solar Schools?

Solar Schools strapline is ‘Powered by Sunshine, Funded by Everyone.’ The idea is that schools fund the work to install solar panels either by themselves or through the community and then benefit from the Feed in Tariff to achieve lower fuel bills and a good return on investment that can then be ploughed into important things like educational resources or community initiatives. It’s an excellent way to get our children involved in the green agenda and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Guardian reported recently that campaigners were worried that:

“the ‘solar schools’ project run by environmental charity 10:10 would become unsustainable under government proposals to dramatically cut the feed-in tariff for householders and communities who install solar panels on rooftops.”

That said however, The Renewable Energy Hub still aims to continue its support for schools via its crowd funding initiative. Their system still enables schools across the UK to benefit from 100% owned, free solar panels even after the proposed cuts to the FiT have come into force. Crowdfunding for Schools – Solar Panels

Changes to the Feed in Tariff

There had been some noise about changes to the Feed in Tariff and possible reductions in subsidies for a while but the announcement and the size of the cuts at the end of the summer came as a major shock to the industry. The Government are looking to reduce FiTs by as much as 87%, effectively removing the incentive for people and businesses to invest in renewable technologies such as solar panels.

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Back in July, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd tweeted that shale gas (from fracking) was ‘effectively a low-carbon source’ of energy. It raised a few eyebrows at the time but in fact signalled where the current Government believes the energy infrastructure of the country is heading.

Support from Gove et al

Only last year Michael Gove, then Tory Education Secretary said:

“Solar panels are a sensible choice for schools, particularly in terms of the financial benefits they can bring. It is also a great way for pupils to engage with environmental issues and think about where energy comes from.”

There were also plenty who supported the growth of solar panels on our rooftops and the benefits it could bring. At the time, the Government’s position was to move emphasis away from large solar panels to smaller units across towns and cities. Not only that, they lauded the job creation possibilities. According to the Government of the time it was a win-win situation.

So what changed? Of course, these views were expressed under the coalition government of the time and may have had more to do with the Liberal influence than what the Tories actually wanted. This means that the majority win at the May 2015 election could have been the big turning point for renewables and our hopes for a greener UK as it allowed the Tory government to implement the plans it really wanted and not to compromise.

Protests Drowned Out

The biggest noise during this week’s Tory conference was over the changes to tax credits which may well see many poorer members of our society struggle to make ends meet. Whilst this is obviously something that we should all be concerned about, for the renewables industry this presents something of a problem. To try and push back the changes planned for the Feed in Tariff this January, protestors need to get the green agenda at the top of the news. The simple fact is that without media pressure to support industry concerns, then the changes may well slide through without most of the population noticing.

In the meantime, bright initiatives such as Solar Schools may well become a thing of the past, a good idea consigned to the ideological rubbish bin. If we are to save the renewables industry and prevent it from being irreparably damaged, voices have to be heard and the Government has to listen. Time is beginning to run out if we want to make a difference.

 By Steve M.