David Prosser: Britain's solar industry feels the cold chill of government rejection


Outlook The announcement of new and, for the most part, substantially lower feed-in tariffs for solar-power projects will come to be seen as another black mark on the Coalition Government's record on climate change – and a huge missed opportunity.

An independent report in the US yesterday revealed that in much of the country, solar power is now no more expensive than electricity generated from oil or gas. This "grid parity" is now being achieved without any subsidies – but only because the solar industry has had enough support in the past for technologies to be explored that have brought down costs, and for scale to be reached.

What a pity, then, that in the UK, we are withdrawing such support barely a year after introducing it. For the feed-in tariffs for all but the smallest projects – in themselves worthy, but not collectively able to produce significant amounts of power – are now being cut so drastically that large-scale projects are likely to disappear.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change says demand for the feed-in tariff scheme has exceeded all expectations and now threatens to become "overwhelming". The alternative way to put that view would be to celebrate the fact that Britain is finally having some success in encouraging the take-up of a renewable-energy technology that could eventually provide a third of the electricity we need.

Still, even accepting the glass-half-empty approach, is the scheme really being overwhelmed? It is worth remembering that the cost of subsidies for solar is met not from taxpayers' funds but via a levy on home energy bills. The Solar Trade Association says its members could cope with cuts to the tariffs that would see the average UK household paying £3 a year to keep the scheme going. In this time of inexorably rising energy bills, every penny counts, but it is hard to see a £3 supplement as an "overwhelming" cost.

Moreover, the US experience has been that over time, it is possible to wean the solar sector off subsidies. On most estimates, we could in this country withdraw support completely in less than a decade assuming we do not desert solar power now.

All these calculations, by the way, exclude the positive contribution the solar sector could make in terms of jobs – and thus tax revenues – as well as the potential savings on subsidies for other types of power generation. In particular for nuclear, where despite the Government's protestations, the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee continues to accuse ministers of covertly offering subsidies.

What, then, has motivated Greg Barker, the Decc minister in charge, to take the axe to the tariffs, despite the majority of submissions to his consultation process advising against it? It is hard to follow his thinking, especially given the new uncertainties about nuclear power, other than to observe that our established power-generating sectors have well-oiled political lobbying machines.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Administrator

£13000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about custom...

Recruitment Genius: Dialler Administrator

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Main purpose: Under the directi...

Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City of London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen