Leadsom insists domestic solar deployment remains ‘strong’ despite dwindling install rate

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom has dismissed concerns over faltering domestic solar PV deployment and insisted installations under the new feed-in tariff remains “strong”.

Both Leadsom and energy secretary Amber Rudd were quizzed over solar deployment during this morning’s Department of Energy and Climate Change oral and topical questions session in the House of Commons, and Leadsom responded to a question regarding deployment trends in the wake of the new FiT.

She noted that the two largest of the four solar caps – standalone installs, which is massively oversubscribed, and rooftops in excess of 50kW – had breached their caps in the previous quarter.

“Take up of domestic solar photovoltaic systems is strong, but was still within the cap. We do estimate that FiTs will support over 178,000 new solar PV installations at domestic scale by 2018/19,” Leadsom said.

However that estimate does not appear to fit with current domestic deployment rates with a significant amount of unused capacity – 27.4MW worth - having been carried over from T1.

Statistics released earlier this week by Ofgem indicate that a total of 3,206 installs were made under the domestic band in April. If that monthly rate is extrapolated then fewer than 120,000 installations stand to be made before April 2019.

However the Solar Trade Association's Sonia Dunlop noted that meeting specific caps is "neither here nor there".

"The 48MW domestic cap is itself half the level of installations we saw in the same period last year. It is going to become increasingly difficult for Ministers to make out that the market is doing well. We are delighted to see MPs putting pressure on Ministers on this point, drawing on the experience of installers in their own constituencies.

“This shows how important it is for solar installers and businesses around the country to keep in touch with their MPs to let them know what is going on – as part of a combined effort that can really make a big difference," Dunlop said.

Leadsom was pushed further by Labour MP Helen Hayes who referenced domestic installers in her constituency who had said demand for their services had “plummeted” in recent months.

“Will the minister now acknowledge that the new tariff is too low and that the disastrous approach this government is taking to solar energy is effectively stopping individuals who want to make a contribution to combating climate change in their own homes by installing solar panels from doing so?” she asked.

Leadsom was however unequivocal in her response.

“Well no I don’t recognise what she’s saying. The solar deployment in this country has been amazing, far in excess of all of our expectations. 99% of solar installations have taken place since 2010, so under this government and the previous government, not under the opposition government.

“It’s been a huge success story and as I say, our subsidy regime takes into account the interests of the consumer, who has to pay it, and the developer, who is continuing to build. As I say, some caps have already been met and others are performing strongly,” she said.

Leadsom’s comments will not endear the government’s argument to domestic installers who have witnessed a significant year-on-year decline on demand, with installations in March down roughly three-quarters on figures from the same month in 2015.

That decline in demand has resulted in a large number of job losses and installation businesses filing for administration or insolvency. Installers such as Freewatt, Global Heat Source and Absolute Renewable Energy have failed since the new regime came into force and a large number of others are believed to have made cutbacks.

DECC insisted last month that the industry must “stand on its own two feet” over job losses and declined to comment on any parallels between UK solar and UK steel.

Today the Solar Trade Association has launched an online survey with Pricewaterhouse Coopers to assess the extent of which the new policy landscape has changed UK solar.

The confidential survey – which can be accessed here - will gather responses over the next two weeks and be used to both inform government ministers and contribute towards a public report to be released in early summer.

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the STA, said it was important that the industry quantified to what extent policy changes over the last year have changed the industry.

“A comprehensive survey is essential for an informed discussion with government and Parliament and there will be strong interest in how the industry is faring. Partnering up with PwC means we can ensure the high quality analysis this important industry deserves,” she said.

“Now is therefore an important time to assess what the current challenges and uncertainty have had on UK solar business health today and in confidence going forward. How authoritative our report is will depend on how many companies respond - so we urge companies to please do so,” John Dashwood, head of renewables, assurance at PwC, added.