Real, gutsy solar power is as rare as hen's teeth in this country. By the real deal I mean photovoltaic (PV) systems that convert sunlight into electricity as opposed to rather prosaic solar thermal systems that heat water. Last year just 6MW of solar PV was installed in this country. Compare and contrast the situation in Germany, where more than 1,500MW was installed last year and one in 10 buildings has a solar power system.
This is ludicrous because solar PV could provide 30-40% of the UK's total electricity needs by 2050, reducing CO2 emissions by 15% a year. An average domestic system (a fairly modest 1.8kWp PV system) can provide at least 25% of a household's energy. The sticking point has been the expense.
Luckily there are sunnier days ahead. We've been waiting years for a Feed-in Tariff scheme (rebranded as the Clean Energy Cash Back Scheme), and now it is expected to arrive in April 2010. This will guarantee domestic PV installations 36.5 pence per kw hour of electricity they feed back into the grid, probably for around 25 years.
However campaign groups, notably We Support Solar (www.wesupportsolar.net), say that this is too miserly given that 36.5p represents just a 4% return on income for most domestic installations. They believe 8% would be nearer the mark. Still, even 4% is preferable to a poke in the eye, which is what's being offered to those brave pioneers who became adopters of solar PV from 2002. If plans go through, they'll get just 9p for their surplus output. You would, however, be able to enjoy the more generous tariff and possibly a grant (£10m is available until April via the Low Carbon Buildings Programme in the form of £2,500 per household – go to www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk).