Andrew Hill, Recruitment Consultant at Fircroft, recruits in the power and energy sectors. Here he discusses the increase in solar power in the UK.
The UK government recently increased its projections of solar power use, in what seems to be an attempt to reach out to environmentalists. It claims that as much as 4% of the country’s electricity could be generated by solar before the end of the decade. However, green activists are concerned that this news is being used as an excuse to cut subsidies to large-scale solar projects. Many within the solar industry see this as a mistake, as it will make it more difficult to compete with other types of energy – such as fossil fuels.
To what extent are subsidies involved?
Subsidies are widely believed to be a key reason for the decrease in solar panel costs, which have gone down by approximately 70% over the last few years. The market intensified and manufacturers from all over the world – including many in China – began to get involved. But now that a strong market has been established, the government has effectively ended subsidies for solar farms that are above 5MW. The cut-off date for such subsidies was the end of March, and the industry saw growth around this time as companies scrambled to connect to the grid in time.
According to the STA (Solar Trades Association), there was as much new capacity in the first quarter of 2015, prior to the subsidies cut-off, as there was in the whole of 2014. Firms are obviously seeing the potential that solar power has in the UK energy sector. Leonie Green, a spokesman for the STA, however claims new installations will drop by around 80% because of the subsidy withdrawals. She argues the industry needs the subsidies for another five years so that it can effectively compete. Ms Greene said, "The government's decision to pull out subsidies is an own goal - it will delay the moment when solar can compete with fossil fuels."
However, on a more positive note, it was reported by the Department for Energy and Climate Change that solar has once again topped the poll as the UK’s most popular renewable energy technology. 81% of those surveyed supported solar over any other renewable source of energy.
Government not concerned about competitiveness
Energy Secretary Ed Davey dismissed the argument that the solar industry cannot compete without subsidies, and pointed to tenders that had recently been awarded to renewable energy firms. He also added that he was a keen supporter of solar power and believes it is “wonderful for humanity”. There is currently around 5GW of solar being generated, and Mr Davey expects that to rise to 14 GW by the year 2020. This will increase the annual electricity amount created by solar from 1.5 per cent today to four per cent. Furthermore, it was reported at the start of August 2015 that the UK added 254MW of solar in the second quarter of 2015.
According to a government spokesman, the UK now has approximately 650,000 solar installations – including those on private homes. This is clearly an industry that is moving fast, but could be moving faster, many would argue, if minsters backed more subsidies.