A number of solar companies have expressed support for government’s controversial proposals to limit support for large-scale solar farms.
The government is currently consulting on completely removing RO support for solar sites over 5MW from April 2015. Part of the government’s justification for reviewing solar support levels is that it wants to enact a shift away from ground-mounted solar to commercial-scale rooftop solar, a move that has been welcomed by some in the solar industry.
Simon Taylor, managing partner of solar installation company Mypower, explained why he was in favour of the government’s proposals. He said: “We’ve always believed that the most efficient place for solar energy is at the point of demand. Factories, warehouses, supermarkets, farms and schools all have large electricity demand and large roof spaces which are often ideally suited to the installation of PV. It makes total sense for government policy to support this.”
Mike Stephenson, director of H2 Eco, a Dorset-based solar installer, agreed that the changes are justified. He said: “A review is the right thing to do to ensure our money is spent in the way that will benefit the whole country. Trying to make the wider UK industry more competitive by helping it to lower energy bills would be a good place to start. Doing so improves employment and productivity country-wide and helps us to develop a strong country for the future – that isn't as reliant on foreign fuel imports.”
Writing on his company’s blog, Gabriel Wondrausch, managing director Sungift Energy, said: “I was thrilled to hear that the government has taken a more common-sense approach and shifted its emphasis from ‘renewable energy at any cost’ to ‘renewable energy that benefits regular householders and businesses’…We’re not clear what the additional support will be for regular systems, but it’s promising to know that the focus will be moved back to rooftop solar.”
The solar companies believe that the deployment of solar on commercial rooftops rather than on the ground provides a number of benefits to the UK. “The problem with solar farms is they are usually sited in areas of little demand, requiring that all the energy they produce is exported to the grid,” explained Taylor. He continued: “This often requires disruptive and expensive upgrades to the electricity grid. Add the aesthetic and political controversy these schemes present and it’s no surprise that government will no longer support them.”
Stephenson added: “Solar farms are mainly installed as standalone generating businesses – they produce no spinoff benefits to more diverse business operations unlike roof mounted installations as local businesses will still have to pay full price for the electricity they generate. Roof-mounted installations are better in many ways as the power is largely consumed where it is produced. This is best for the environment and helps the companies that invest into those technologies to be competitive in their core business activities by having lower energy costs.”
However, Stephenson still believes that ground-mount solar is still suitable in the UK. He said: “Solar farms certainly have a place in the energy mix and the ecological benefits of them are starting to become apparent as they act like mini wildlife reserves. However, the cost of the subsidies may be becoming too high and over-generous resulting in an over expansion at the expense of rooftop installations.”
Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, agreed with the myriad benefits of rooftop solar. However, she explained that – despite all the rhetoric – the government had yet to take any concrete stpes to boost support for the flagging commercial rooftop market.
She said: “Of course when resources are being stretched far too thinly for solar, you will get tension between the different sub-sectors of solar. That's to be expected but we'll do better as an industry to pull together and make what is a very strong case for a much greater role for solar than the Department of Energy and Climate Change is supporting.
“However, the rooftop sector is quite right to feel aggrieved, and to point out the tremendous benefits of generating power when it is needed at the point of use. Nobody has done more work than the STA over the past year to make the case for much stronger rooftop policies – the Solar Strategy incorporates a lot of our work on non-financial barriers. However, government is simply not making enough resources available to the rooftop sector, even when it is cheaper than other renewables. We are running an industry event on this vital market next week where we'll be highlighting our policy concerns.
“While we all recognise we need a more balanced market in the UK, all applications of solar bring unique benefits. It is not an either/or. High volume ground-mount deployment is crucial to accelerating solar power’s excellent cost reductions, from which all sub-sectors of solar benefit – and it can bring wider biodiversity and economic benefits for the countryside.
Greene concluded: “There is a fundamental problem with DECC's outdated modelling and misconceptions about solar resulting in unfair suppression of this technology's potential. On farms and on larger-scale roofs, solar is the second cheapest mainstream source of renewable power, so it is nonsensical that there should be damaging intervention when solar accounts for just 5% of the RO budget. While of course we need all sub-sectors of solar to thrive, the solar industry must focus on greater resourcing in the round to achieve its potential.”