Westminster is Crippling the Development of Solar PV

Since it decided to slash feed in tariff payments for solar PV at the beginning of 2016, the UK government has been accused by many of damaging the market and putting the renewable agenda back by several years.

Explaining that solar needs to exist without the help of tax payer subsidise (despite the fact that we still heavily subsidise fossil fuels in the UK), the general feeling remains that the Tories have no great love for this technology.

To some, it’s been far easier to spend vast amounts of money on a dubious nuclear build at Hinkley Point than invest heavily in a renewable energy that is beginning to deliver real benefits across the globe. In countries like China, billions are being invested in infrastructure and technological advances are being made daily.

Even with Greg Clark’s recent announcement that the UK was going to spend time and money on developing energy storage systems, there’s the sneaking feeling that Westminster thinks solar PV sits firmly at the bottom of the overall pecking order. It’s all the more confusing when you realise a recent Government survey showed more people than ever are in favour of switching to renewable platforms. According to the Guardian:

“In November 2015, government scenarios for future electricity generation all showed renewable power, which had expanded 10 times in the nine years to 2015, hardly expanding at all over the next two decades.”

The Feed in Tariff and Other Woes

The first big blow to solar PV was the lowering of feed in tariff rates at the beginning of 2016. While it didn’t cause the catastrophic damage to the sector that many people anticipated, it did mean a number of high profile companies began to fail and went into liquidation. The uptake of solar roofs for homes slowed down and some major plans for solar farms were put on hold. In the months after the change, the amount of capacity installed fell by about three quarters. Things have recovered since but there’s no doubt that the feed in tariff reduction has impacted negatively on the market.

According to The Solar Portal it also made the cost of installation higher:

“According to the latest solar PV cost data released by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today, the average figure in March per kW of installed capacity of 0-4W systems stood at £1,885. This remains considerably higher than the £1,587/kW in January 2016 following a steady decline buoyed by the uptake of domestic solar under the previous FiT regime.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the only change in the rules that solar PV and customers have had to contend with in recent times. The business rate tax for companies and organisations that have solar rooftops is set to increase dramatically and that could have an impact not only on companies that already have them but those that might be considering switching to solar PV in the future. It’s also inadvertently had an impact on public schools that have chosen to adopt solar. In fact, it’s estimated the tax changes could impact on nearly 45,000 microgenerators who initially thought that they were doing the right thing.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme for small installations is also set to double to ‘keep up with rising costs, something which will again have an impact on companies.

Why Do The Tories Hate Solar?

It may be going a step too far to suggest that the current government hate all things renewable, particularly solar. Way back in 2013, then Tory Prime Minister David Cameron was widely touted as saying he wanted to get ‘rid of all that green crap’. The Republicans across the pond seem equally allergic to all things renewable and perhaps it is a peculiarity of right leaning politicians. If you’re cynical, that could be because many are in bed with fossil fuel companies and lobbyists or it could simply be that they don’t believe in climate change for one reason or another.

If you’re kinder, you’ll point out that the Tories actually want the sector to be sustainable and stand on its own two feet. They highlight the way tax payers are being hammered for money to support burgeoning industries such as solar and wind – a cost they say is unsustainable. The trouble is that many people actually want their money to go into this kind of energy development and future installations. They much rather this than polluting and damaging fossil fuels.

Some would say that if the current government was able to invest as much as they are intending to with Hinkley Point nuclear power station, we’d soon begin to see even more benefits from solar and other renewables. Of course, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Despite Westminster’s renewables aversion, we fortunately seem to have already gone past the tipping point. Losing some of the support of the feed in tariff has led to many companies changing their business models and finding new ways to bring investors on board. Solar farms are still being built in certain parts of the country and home owners are still finding the money to install rooftop arrays on their homes.

In the warm start to the summer this year, solar broke the record for production in one day – 8.7 GW representing over 28% of production. This kind of statistic gives us all hope. Along with the developing technology relating to solar storage, most experts think we’re far too far down the road to stop right now.

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