Matt Hancock, the new minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has talked up the potential of solar in the UK numerous times during a Commons debate on sustainable energy.
Responding to various questions about the potential role of renewable energy, Hancock was quick to point out the ongoing performance of solar PV and its potential role as part of the UK’s energy mix. Hancock said: “I think solar is one of the big opportunities. As the price falls and it becomes competitive – potentially grid competitive – in the short- to medium-term, solar is a big opportunity, even in cloudy old England.”
Responding to another question about the cost of renewables, Hancock again praised solar PV, stating: “Improving renewables in our country is, of course, about finance as well as technology on the ground. There is a big opportunity, especially as the cost of renewables falls – the cost of solar is pre-eminent in that fall – and we must seize it with both hands.”
Hancock also appeared to be broadly positive about well-sited solar farms, the subject of much politicisation due to the large number of schemes being installed under the soon-to-be-scrapped renewable obligation scheme. Responding to concerns voiced by James Gray, conservative MP North Wiltshire, that his constituents were being “besieged by hundreds of planning applications from London-based commercial operations”, Hancock said that there were “opportunities for solar, where appropriately sited, in many different places – on roofs on land".
Hancock continued: “In fact, land can be combined with agricultural use and solar. One other advantage of solar is that it can effectively be masked from being seen from elsewhere because it is low-rise rather than high-rise. This has to be done sensitively.
“There is no point in destroying our green and pleasant land in order to save the global environment. We have to tackle security of supply and climate change in a way that also protects the local environment.”
The government is currently considering responses to its consultation over plans to scrap RO support for solar farms over 5MW – a move it says is necessary to protect consumers’ bills. However, the STA has challenged this assumption, pointing out that solar is only taking up 3.5% of the RO budget.