UK solar potential is not being recognised, claims STA report

After months of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s solar market, the Solar Trade Association has today launched an in-depth report that claims Government could do more to support the burgeoning industry. According to the STA’s findings, the real potential for solar in the UK is simply not being recognised.

The Alternative Solar Revolution Strategy calls on Government to re-think its solar policy, highlighting that investment in the sector needs to be doubled to £1.2 billion in the next four years. That level of commitment could kick-start a revolution that will see the creation of 140,000 jobs by 2015, with the addition of a further 220,000 by end of 2020.

All of this can be achieved at an average cost to householders of just £3 per annum until 2015, the STA claims. This, in direct opposition to critics who say that high levels of investment in the UK solar industry will increase tax payers’ bills by an unacceptable amount. In fact, over the lifetime of the scheme, the STA estimates that the cost will be just £6.50 - £9.00 per household per annum, depending on timing of reaching grid parity.

In what is viewed by some as a surprise move, the STA's report also urges Government to stick to its plan to cut the feed-in tariff rates. However, instead of imposing 40-70% cuts on systems over 50kW, the advice is to cut all tariffs – large and small – by 25%. According to the association's calculations, this takes into account the fact that prices have dropped in the sector, and allows for sustainable growth.

“The Government has got it wrong on solar. We are on the cusp of a global solar revolution, major markets all over the world recognize that solar energy is critical to our future,” said Howard Johns, Chairman of Solar Trade Association. “Germany plans to generate 50% of its day time electricity from solar by 2020 – their targets are for 52GW of solar energy compared to 2.7GW for the UK by 2020. Community projects have been devastated by government decision making on solar.”

“We recognise that solar is a dynamic and fast-moving technology which needs regular appraisals in a complex context with specialists.  We are keen and willing to work with the Government to set realistic targets and to help maximise the benefits and to understand the true potential for solar,”  explains Johns.

The STA further estimates that solar photovoltaics has the potential to meet more than 30% of UK electricity needs before 2040 and is deployable now to meet UK carbon reduction targets, yet it has been excluded from DECC assessments of technology costs and is barely mentioned in the Electricity Market Reform proposals.

“We urgently need a green energy revolution to create new jobs and tackle the twin threats of rising fuel prices and global climate change. Harnessing the power of the sun is essential to the development of a low-carbon economy, but Government funding cuts threaten to kill off this fledgling industry,” explained Alan Simpson, Sustainability Advisor to Friends of the Earth.

“Rather than destroying this huge green potential, Ministers should be doing more to help householders, businesses and communities to switch on to solar power – so they can play their part in building a cleaner, brighter future.”

Backing these findings, the solar industry is launching a campaign, supported by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, which calls for a solar revolution in the UK. “We are launching ‘Solar Needs You’, calling on individuals, NGOs, communities and businesses to put pressure on the Government to re-think solar and to invest to build a sector that is good for people, communities, businesses, with huge environmental and costs benefits, and additional growth in jobs and manufacturing – which has to be good for the British economy,” concludes Johns.

Government is due to announce its verdict on the proposed cuts for solar installations over 50kW within the next week. Thus far, ministers have maintained that harsh cuts are necessary, and that they will go ahead.