As the UK prepares for yet another election, following the dissolution of parliament in the early hours yesterday, pledges for increased solar power are notable in almost all the major party's campaigns.
The Green Party has called of the country to make the election on the 12 December the climate election. Unsurprisingly therefore, they have promised increases in renewables going forwards including solar, as have the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
According to a recent poll, 54% of voters said that climate change policies would affect how they vote. So who has promised what so far?
To date, Labour is the only party that has published an extended plan for energy since the election was announced. It’s Warm Homes for All report includes the installation of solar PV at 1.75 million additional homes around the country by 2030, along with heat pumps and energy efficiency measures.
The plan would cost £250 billion according to the report, but lead to an annual saving of £11.54 billion across the UK by 2030. It would also create 250,000 skilled jobs, and help prevent deaths from cold and reduce cases of asthma.
The leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, said that such projects would help turn the threat of climate change into an opportunity.
“By investing on a massive scale, we will usher in a Green Industrial Revolution with good, clean jobs that will transform towns, cities and communities that have been held back and neglected for decades,” he said.
The plan has been heavily criticised by the Conservative Party, which said “Corbyn’s plans would wreck the economy, putting up bills for hardworking families – and preventing any real progress on climate change.”
Just a few days before the official announcement of the general election on the 29 October, the Labour party released its 'Thirty by 2030' report, which detail a fast-tracked decarbonisation plan. This included significantly ramping up of solar capacity to 35GW and suggesting that 90% of the UKs electricity should come from renewables by 2030.
At the end of the party’s conference, just over a month ago, Labour also pledged to increase the UK’s offshore wind capacity to 52GW within the next 10 years and invest billions in EV charging infrastructure.
In Boris Johnson's campaign launch speak yesterday, much time was dedicated to attacking Corbyn, as well as announcing measures to increase the number of police and NHS funding, but energy and climate measures were practically ignored. In fact, the party’s disastrous start to campaigning has been noticeably devoid of strong investment pledges regarding renewables and energy efficiency.
Since the election was announced, the parties only major action in the energy sector has been a U-turn on fracking. The moratorium on the natural gas extraction technique marked a win for many green groups, who had long protested the controversial activity.
Many met the news with skepticism though, viewing it as an election ploy that the government is unlikely to stick to. This is unsurprising given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s previous enthusiasm for fracking, calling it “glorious news for humanity”.
The Labour party’s Shadow Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, was quick to criticise the move. “Their own energy secretary [Andrew Leadsom] has described pausing fracking as a ‘disappointment’, says fracking is a ‘huge opportunity’ and that the UK will rely on fracked shale gas for decades to come.
“This confirms that the Tories are only temporarily pausing fracking to try to win a few votes.”
At the party’s annual conference in September, the Conservatives lauded the UK as a leader in renewables such as solar and wind. But there lacked clarity on plans for the future, bar an initial investment of £200 million for nuclear fusion, and increases in EV infrastructure and R&D funding for batteries.
The government under the Conservatives did set a historic target to become a net zero nation by 2050, a pledge that will need increases in solar power along with other renewables if it to be met. But since then has come under criticism for its lack of clear policy and regulation to support this.
“The power sector has been world-leading in reducing emissions and we have an opportunity to continue the UK's global leadership but we urgently need the policy framework to allow the required innovation and investment to flow,” Lawrence Slade, chief executive at trade body Energy UK warned in September.
The long awaited energy white paper, which was first announced by Greg Clark in a speech in November 2018, is now expected in Q1 2020.
Seemingly, those interested in the Conservative Party’s plans for the UK’s solar sector will have a while to wait before its plan for the future become clear.
The Liberal Democrats have spent a lot of time trying to brand themselves as the ‘anti-Brexit’ party, as such stopping the UK leaving the EU is unsurprisingly its key pledge.
But the party has released some basic pledges regarding the energy sector in these first days of the election campaign. These predominantly focus on a plan to generate 80% of the UKs electricity from renewables by 2030.
This would require the country doubling the amount of wind and solar in the UK. Wind power would increase from 21GW of capacity in 2018 to 53GW by 2030, and solar would increase from 12GW to 30GW.
Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats have also set out a goal for tidal power, saying that while the technology only provided 0.2GW in 2018, it could generate 10% of the country’s electricity needs if supported. As such it will reserve specific pots of funding for contracts for tidal sources, according to the Liberal Democrat Voice.
The party has pledged to invest £15 billion for upgrading energy efficiency in 26 million homes around the country by 2025, predominantly through insulation and new heating systems. This would save the average household £550 a year.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the climate emergency Wera Hobhouse, attached the Conservative party for effectively banning onshore wind, slashing support for solar power and cancelling the Green Deal. She said that it had hindered development of climate action that was “no better than Climate Change denial.”
“The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have a clear, ambitious plan to cut harmful emissions by 2030 and get to net zero by 2045. We would raise efficiency standards of every home and more than double the amount of electricity we generate from renewables.”
Further details on how exactly renewable capacity will grow are limited however, and something to watch out for as the campaign continues.
Unsurprisingly, the campaign most focused on the energy sector and climate change is that of the Green Party.
Launching the party’s campaign in Bristol yesterday, co-leader Sian Berry said: “Some things are even bigger than Brexit. This must be the climate election.”
The party has pledged to invest £100 billion in climate action a year for the next decade, in an effort to be fossil-fuel free by 2030.
This will include a roll-out of renewables, as well as building 100,000 energy-efficient homes each year, and upgrading transport infrastructure.
Currently the party is yet to release specifics of how exactly the £100 billion a year, which will predominantly be borrowed with just £9 billion coming from “tax changes”, will be divided.