This morning the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its much-anticipated report on renewables. Outlining the potential green energy has in the UK, the research identifies several possibilities, including solar photovoltaics and solar thermal, and discusses what role each one can play in increasing the energy mix on the journey to the country’s carbon commitment targets.

Unfortunately, much of the research has been met with disappointment.

Despite flagging solar power as an economically viable energy source, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) says that it “is done a great disservice in this report.” PV is barely mentioned in the document, but when it is, it is either outlined as expensive, or it is contrasted with a technology that is simply incomparable.

John Moreton, Chairman of mO3 Power agrees with this point, stating that, “The full potential of solar energy is being overlooked.”

“Solar power should be used to provide Britain with a safe and politically secure source of electricity generation. The Government need to support solar so that the technology can develop in this country and we reap the future economic and employment benefits,” he said.

The CCC begins by falling into the trap of evaluating the cost of solar power with current wholesale electricity prices, rather than retail prices — which can be more than twice the cost. One of the benefits often pointed out in connection with solar power is that it has the capability of providing electricity directly to the consumer, without the need for the numerous additional costs that are inherent in networked electricity. It is therefore crucial that, when looking at solar power, the retail price of electricity is used as the comparator.

PV Adviser Ray Noble said, “CCC has overestimated even current solar prices, let alone future prices. They must at least base their analysis on the right pricing.”

Howard Johns, Chairman of the Solar Trade Association (STA) said, “CCC has made the classic mistake of directly comparing the costs of solar with the costs of centralised electricity like large-scale wind and nuclear. Because solar works directly on your roof it cuts out the costs of networks, supplier profits and all sorts of additional costs. Therefore solar competes directly with what the end-user pays for electricity. That is a critical difference and it means solar will be competitive much earlier than they estimate.”

“It is surprising that a body such as the Committee on Climate Change doesn't get the basic economics of decentralised renewables. In addition CCC have also missed the huge potential for increased competition in our electricity sector because solar enables millions of people to have a stake in electricity generation, rather than a handful of companies.”

When considering this point, none of the cost evaluations, price comparisons, graphs or charts outlined in the report can be seriously considered when looking at future the renewables mix in the UK.

Further to this, throughout the report the committee discusses renewables in relation to carbon abatement, rather than looking at all of the benefits this type of energy can bring such as energy security, diversification, employment creation, synergies with municipal and commercial waste management and the economic benefits to the UK from manufacturing.

Gaynor Hartnell, Chief Executive of the REA said, “Renewable energy is about far more than decarbonisation, and the report barely touches on the other things that renewables offer…carbon can easily become the proxy for why we’re doing renewables – and viewed through that lens alone, you just don’t get the full picture. All things being equal – and the costs are not far off that – renewables should come out more favourably than the alternatives. With renewables, you will never have to worry about fuel sources or sites for waste disposal running out.  Plus in many cases the fuel will deliver its self to the power station, come what may!”

Whilst the report does make an effort to acknowledge the huge solar resource we have in the UK, these oversights mean that the Committee has not recognised the significant role that solar can play in the short and medium term, and puts the UK out of step with other major EU countries. 

The STA points out that in Germany, which the solar capabilities are similar to that of the UK, specialists anticipate that nearly 10% of electricity will be provided by solar by 2020. The German Environment Minister has also recently said he expects the costs of solar to hit grid parity by 2013.

There is no reason why the UK cannot achieve a similar breakthrough.

The full report can be read here.