Solar industry calls for decisive Government action to unlock 60GW potential

New data released by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that backing British solar power will boost jobs, drive economic growth and dramatically reduce the UK's overall energy bill.

The study was carried out by CEBR to quantify the economic impact of Britain’s solar boom and suggests that, with stable policy, large-scale solar projects are on track to becoming the cheapest way to generate electricity in the UK. It concludes that bold Government action to back British solar could create 60GW of generation capacity by 2030.

The report follows the announcement in May this year that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) plans to end the subsidy programme for large-scale solar two years ahead of schedule. The Solar Trade Association (STA), which commissioned the study, has warned that this will damage the industry and inhibit Britain’s chances of global competitiveness.

“The potential benefits of solar for the British economy are immense,” said STA chief executive Paul Barwell. “British solar is currently right at the forefront of a global wave of investment and innovation. However, the Government risks bursting the bubble, damaging the industry and holding Britain back, because it keeps shifting the goal posts on support for solar.

“We believe that Government support for solar energy should come down gradually, in line with falling costs, until solar electricity is consistently the same price as the market price for electricity. Once we have reached that point – what we call solar independence – solar no longer needs any support and will, with time, bring down energy bills. But it will need stable, gradually declining, support to get there.”

Unstable support

The report notes that the UK is among the world’s top solar markets, now harnessing more power from the sun than Spain and has delivered dramatic cost reductions since 2010 with solar power now producing 5GW electricity. Solar is already cheaper than offshore wind and is on track to out-compete onshore wind.

But the Government’s ‘unstable support’ for the sector is already starting to have an impact, with almost half of all large-scale solar companies stating they expect to reduce staff over the next year.
Thorough examination by CEBR showed that, by 2030, ground-mounted solar farms alone have the potential to contribute £25.5bn to the UK economy as well as creating nearly twice as many jobs as new nuclear power stations. Solar power is also the most cost effective way of reaching the UK’s climate change target of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Sainsbury’s head of sustainability, energy and engineering Paul Crewe said: “Solar makes absolute sense for British businesses, and for the wider UK economy. Contrary to popular belief, Britain’s climate is ideal for solar. We have installed solar on the roofs of hundreds of our stores up and down the country, and it’s helping us to keep costs down for our business.”

Economic value

Tom Paul, director of building materials firm Kingspan, added: “Solar is potentially of significant value to the British economy. Kingspan is a living and breathing example of what this report is trying to capture – we manufacture our energy efficient solar ‘in-roof’ installations at our plant in Yorkshire, and are looking to export markets across Europe and beyond for our solar products.”

Judicial Review

In response to the CEBR report, industry leaders are today (25 September) urging the Government to:

  • Drive a stable transition away from subsidy by setting clear Renewables Obligation support for the next two years. 
  • Unlock the vast potential of the non-domestic rooftop solar market by reviewing feed in tariffs for larger projects. 
  • Give solar a bigger share of the levy control framework.

As reported by edie back in August, four of the nation’s biggest solar firms – TGC Renewables, Solarcentury, Orta Solar Farms and Lark Energy – launched a Judicial Review against the Government, claiming that the sudden withdrawal of support for solar through the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme from Energy Secretary Ed Davey was ‘unlawful’.

DECC says the changes to the RO scheme will save money, but the claimants say this decision to retrospectively pull the plug on the scheme could cost large numbers of jobs and will rob the solar industry of hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of business – a viewpoint that this report seemingly supports.

Lois Vallely

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