Solar’s outlook ‘unclear’ following Conservative election victory

The Conservatives secured a surprise election victory today, winning enough seats in this year’s General Election to form a majority government.   

The Conservatives did not make the environment a central part of their election campaign, with the party being criticised for its lack of environmental commitments in its pre-election manifesto. Solar was omitted completely from the party’s manifesto, however, Matt Hancock told Solar Power Portal that the Conservatives were “strongly committed” to solar PV in the UK.  

“The outlook is obviously unclear under the Tories and clarity is needed”, explained Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association.

Greene continued: “On the positive side, Tory ministers have been strong advocates of roof-mounted solar. 650,000 solar roofs really is a world class achievement. My sense is there has been growing frustration among the Tory ministers at the marginalising of solar compared to more expensive technologies.

“Where solar was concerned there was a really surprising lack of Liberal Democrat support – some of the decisions that appear to have been Davey's, like the early and sudden removal of the renewable obligation (RO) only for solar and the unhelpful structure of CfDs for SMEs, were clearly damaging.”

Greene also defended the Conservatives' role in DECC, she said: “Actually Greg Barker fought some very tough battles for the solar industry, but where the Conservative position will settle given the exodus of star Turquoise Tories is clearly now the critical question. There are such extremes of views in the party, who Cameron appoints as energy minister will be a key indicator of the direction of travel. Ministers in DCLG and BIS will also matter.”

Chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, Dr Nina Skorupska, called on the Conservatives to move to allay some of the green industry’s fears. She said: “Last month’s Conservative manifesto failed to reflect the ambition we expected and hoped for in regards to the future of the UK’s renewable energy industry. However, the prospect of a Conservative government now offers a fresh opportunity to show leadership in the sector.

“With the 2020 targets on the horizon, we now call on David Cameron and the incoming government to take the measures required to enable the renewable energy industry to play a key role in the UK’s energy mix, including acknowledging the important role of value for money technologies including solar and biomass for power, heat and transport and measures including energy storage which could benefit the energy system at no extra cost to consumers”.

Greene built on Skorupska’s comments pointing out that Conservative-led interventions into the energy market had shaken investor confidence, not just in the solar market. She said: “What has been frustrating and I think damaging for investor confidence and the country as a whole is when truly critical decisions on energy are based on reactionary emotions rather than evidence and objective analysis.

“Unfortunately we saw this from the Tories on shale gas hysteria and destabilising wind. The distortions against solar in the policy framework now are similarly illogical. Ultimately nobody benefits when factual analysis is poor.”

However, Greene remains confident that the incoming government will recognise the potential of solar PV in the UK. “I am confident support for solar will remain, the question is whether they will treat it as a sideshow to old centralised technologies or if they will recognise the technology tide is now changing dramatically internationally and that the UK urgently needs to retain and strengthen its position in the booming global solar market.

“The UK also needs to get to grips with modernising its energy networks urgently. We're pretty confident at The Solar Trade Association that Conservatives will like our Solar Independence plan. We have it ready for the new Secretary of State and will be asking to meet.”

Greene pointed out that if solar continued on its average growth rate for the past 20 years, PV output will match global demand in 18 years. “It will be the governments that recognise and embrace these technology trends that will best secure the future for their citizens,” said Greene.

She concluded: “Ultimately there isn't a choice if we are to safeguard basic security in a world heading towards dangerous levels of climate change. The 400ppm of CO2 globally as we went to the polls – for the first time in millions of years – was the starkest reminder of how little time is left.”

Reza Shaybani, chairman of the British Photovoltaic Association welcomed the Conservative victory, he said: “We are delighted to see that Conservatives have won the election with majority of the votes. This means we will now have a stable government back at work which would enable us to carry on working with them to achieve our goal which is growing the industry and making solar energy a major contributor to our energy mix. In the past five years we worked hard to establish a strong industry/government partnership which enabled us to put our views forward directly to the government and to David Cameron, the Prime Minister. We will carry on with that work making sure solar will receive the highest attention at DECC. We look forward to see who the Secretary of State and Minister will be so that we can start working for a better future for our industry.”