The UK has underestimated the potential of solar power and needs to re-evaluate its role in the country’s energy generation portfolio, according to climate change minister Greg Barker. These comments were made in response to a report issued last week by the Solar Trade Association (STA), which claims that inadequate support from the UK Government is clipping the wings of its fledgling solar industry.
“Historically, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has underestimated the contribution that solar can make,” Barker said. “But solar is now going through an extraordinary stage of development… it's capable of scaling up and competing with the big boys. It's not just for enthusiasts. It has potential to be a significant source of energy.
“While I wouldn't necessarily concur with all the specific recommendations of the [STA] report, there is one clear message that I do agree with: that solar has far more potential than has previously been thought.”
However, those hoping Barker’s comments could signal a last-minute reprieve for the solar industry, which is set to be subjected to debilitating subsidy cuts, are set to be left disappointed. And, despite these statements, the Government is still planning to push through its proposed feed-in tariff reductions for large-scale projects.
“I'd like to be able to be more generous with the large-scale projects, but I've got £860 million from the spending review… so the focus of the current scheme needs to be on the small scale, to get the maximum number of installations. But we now need to think creatively about how we can engage commercial-scale solar as a more important part of the energy mix… we've got to find additional pathways – and that means changing the way that solar is perceived in the department,” Barker added.
These financial constraints will continue to be a thorn in the side of large-scale project developers and prevent the UK from keeping up with some of its European neighbours. Nevertheless, despite alienating many within the sector via its draconian subsidy cuts, Barker is keen for the solar industry to put its resentment to one side and work alongside the Government, “I'm keen to engage with the industry and get the industry to engage with us, so they're not arguing over the finite funding that's available in the feed-in tariff regime currently, but can actually start to compete with large-scale generation,” Barker said during an interview with Sky News.