Solar industry has emerged 'leaner and wiser' says Barker
Solar PV will play an essential role in the UK's energy future after coming through a 'testing period', says Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker.
Speaking at the launch of the BRE National Solar Centre, Barker backed the solar industry for its resilience over two challenging years that saw changes to subsidies and uncertainty for investors.
"As a whole the industry has come through this testing period and has certainly emerged leaner but also wiser, and in due course absolutely larger" said Barker.
With 1.8GW of solar PV now deployed and in operation in the UK - roughly enough electricity to power nearly half a million homes - the Government is working with the solar industry to ensure 2GW is quickly achieved.
Highlighting the progress made over the past few years, Barker boasted that the 1.8GW figure was three times as much deployment as anticipated by the original unreformed scheme, launched back in 2010.
"Now, as we actively contemplate passing the 2GW threshold for solar, we can rightly, proudly and justifiably say that British solar is coming of age. It is reliable, accessible, increasingly affordable, and totally sustainable," he said.
The minister acknowledged the industry's "difficult adjustment" during the changes to subsidies, including cuts to the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) in 2011 which saw several solar companies call on DECC for damages, claiming the cuts were illegal.
However, in December last year, the Government revised its support package for the solar photovoltaic (PV), which the industry welcomed. DECC reduced support for solar power under the Renewables Obligation (RO) from 2 ROCs to 1.6 ROCs, which comes into effect in April, rather than the initially proposed 1.5 ROC's.
"The level of deployment, under the original FiT tariff, simply wasn't financially sustainable at the levels of deployment we saw at the end of 2011," he said.
"We are determined that the new subsidy levels, under both the FiT and also the renewables obligation, including the new enhanced band for building mounted solar, should now set the UK solar sector on a predictable and sustainable, long-term growth trajectory," he added.
Barker also mentioned the important role solar PV would play in helping improve the UK's economic situation.
"2013 is an important year for the economy as a whole. As we do everything we can as a government to drive responsible, sustainable growth in the economy, I want to make sure solar is right up there as part of the Government's growth strategy, because it is an essential part of job and growth creation," he added.
Marking the industry's success and stability, the Minister gave his speech in London during the launch of the new BRE National Solar Centre.
The centre, based in St Austell in Cornwall, aims to help industry and Government deliver on the solar PV opportunities set out in DECC's recent 2012 Renewables Roadmap Update, where the UK's capacity is being steered for growth from its current 1.4GW base up to a potential 20GW by 2020.
BRE director Nick Tune, who developed the idea for the centre, said: "The Centre will help the sector deliver further [cost] reductions so solar PV can become competitive with other low-carbon electricity sources.
"There are significant opportunities to support the development of building integrated PV products and the interaction of PV with commercial buildings. We will also look at issues around smart grids, storage, power output prediction and more - all critical factors for improving the long-term performance of the technology and crating confidence in its future," he added.
Solar Trade Association (STA) CEO Paul Barwell, who also attended today's launch event, said: ""Solar PV has seen dramatic cost reductions in recent years, making it one of the cheapest alternatives to power generation from fossil fuels.
"With stability under the Feed-in Tariff and the RO out to 2015 and 2017 respectively, the framework is there for healthy expansion of the technology at all scales, from household roofs to on-site business and industrial applications through to the utility scale solar parks. The returns are there, the policy is stable, and now is a great time to invest.
"Cornwall has been leading the way on solar, so it is fitting that this is where the Centre will be located. We look forward to continuing our work with Cornwall Council, DECC, and now the BRE National Solar Centre, to ensure that the UK reaps the benefits of solar."