London solar ‘will need alternative support’ in absence of FiT

London will need to offer alternative methods of support to the solar industry if the capital is to meet renewable electricity targets in the absence of a feed-in tariff, Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Stephen Knight has said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has outlined targets to derive a quarter of London’s electricity demand from decentralised sources by 2025, yet uptake of solar in London has continued to lag behind the rest of the country.

Proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff of up to 87%, set to come into force in early January, look certain to impact that further and Knight said more would have to be done to stimulate solar in the future.

“If the FiT is removed then the mayor and local government need to start thinking whether it can provide some kind of incentive to help the uptake of solar in London,” Knight told Solar Power Portal.

Alternative forms of support for solar installations have been discussed over the last few months. A report published by consultancy KPMG and the Renewable Energy Association put forward possible tax breaks for companies installing solar, while a possible repeal of the minimum import price undertaking, which would in turn allow domestic installers access to cheaper panels from overseas, has also been suggested.

Knight said that “some kind of financial support” for solar in the short to medium term was “clearly necessary”. “The question is how do we ensure there’s still an industry left to pick up the pieces when the cost of solar panels makes it such that there’s no need for subsidy,” Knight added.

One possible alternative mentioned is the notion of a ‘London feed-in tariff’, paid for by London’s boroughs to continue to incentivise solar within their borders. Knight said that the idea had been talked about in the past, but faced significant challenges.

“I think the difficulty is where the money’s going to come from for it, and what sources of funding the mayor or the boroughs could call upon to support it,” he added.

Solar has also been notoriously slow to the uptake even with the feed-in tariff as it is. The comparatively high numbers of private tenants and high-rise tower blocks has been blamed for this in the past due to the complicated nature of leases and contracts created by rental agreements.

Knight says this could easily be solved by a simplification of the legal processes, and has also called for boroughs to be handed more planning powers with solar in mind. “I’d like to see a routine that every new property has solar panels on the roof, and any time anybody does anything to their roof, they can put solar panels on. We’re seeing huge numbers of loft extensions put in around London, why not use those opportunities to put solar panels on? The big expense is putting the scaffolding up now,” he said.

The plans would echo legislation passed in France earlier this year mandating that every newly constructed commercial building had to incorporate either a PV installation or green roof to help the country meet its own climate change and renewable energy targets.

Last month the London Assembly outlined the need for stable policy support for solar in its 'Bring me sunshine!' report, and the Assembly has continually looked to highlight the slow uptake of solar despite the introduction of programmes such as RE:FIT and RE:NEW.