Exclusive: Time for solar investors to turn attention to rooftops, says Barker

Investors must focus their attention on rooftop projects, UK climate minister Greg Barker has told Solar Power Portal.

Speaking at the launch of the Solar Strategy at the SunSolar Energy module manufacturing facility opening in Birmingham today, the minister said it was time for a shift in priorities.

“New investor focus must be: onsite generation, whether domestic roofs - we’re aiming for one million – or industrial rooftops,” he said.

Barker confirmed there are no changes to the renewable obligation or feed-in tariff programmes on the immediate horizon.

“What we are announcing today and making the focus for growth going forward is for the mid size market and domestic,” he said.

The Solar Strategy included a reference to funding for the booming large-scale market which “has the potential to affect the financial incentives budget under the levy control framework”.

The minister moved to ease fears over cuts for existing ground mount projects: “If you are already invested, you are already invested – this is about where we go from here.”

Barker said the step away from ground mount solar is to “avoid solar becoming the new onshore wind – from pushing too many insensitively placed sites...[the strategy] is not to say that in the right place, large arrays can’t work, particularly Brownfield sites, but local planning must be respected”.

Barker also stressed that the Strategy is not just about deployment. He added that the UK is “not just deploying but [must] have a strategy to reach out, and build the UK supply chain.

“Clean energy is an essential part of our long term economic plan to play a part in the decades ahead for UK prosperity,” Barker said reiterating the government’s pledge to put solar on one million roofs by 2015.

“The push towards rooftops will open up big opportunities for mid-size, commercial and industrial roofs, whether supermarkets or factories like this,” he added.

Barker also announced the government is to work with the Department for Communities Local Government to “extend permitted development rights for commercial and industrial roofs from 50kWto a megawatt – to sweep away the barriers on commercial roofs.”

According to the minister, the UK is the fastest growing solar market in the EU, with the “latest figures for clean energy investment across the EU showing investment is down in Germany, Italy and Spain, but up in UK,” claimed Barker. 

As the “UK is not just the fastest growing economy in the G8, but the fastest growing energy economy “ the minister said “solar is at the heart of this growth”.