Guest writer Serena Grant provides a perspective on the solar industry in Britain and feed-in tariffs that have helped spur industry growth.
The solar industry in Britain has experienced a recent boom, albeit one that has suffered some funding setbacks. Solar power has gradually risen in popularity to become one of the most widely used and potentially long-lasting alternatives to fossil fuel energy, with photovoltaic cells and panels helping to generate clean, renewable energy. Current government estimates target 230,000 solar projects in the UK, and a seventh place ranking for clean energy within the G20 collection of countries. However, the development of solar power in the UK has experienced some recent controversies, most notably in terms of feed-in tariffs, growth, government cuts and an uncertain future.
With the cost of solar power installations coming down, the ability to expand a solar infrastructure from experimental to more lasting energy production was stimulated in 2010 by government policies for feed-in tariffs. Feed-in tariffs for solar power effectively pay users and businesses a small amount for the energy they produce, and offer contractors long-term contracts on a guaranteed purchase basis over 25 years. Part of broader cash-back scheme for green energy that also extends to a Renewable Heat Incentive, the tariff was instrumental in both encouraging users to take the capital risk on installations, while attracting investors to the UK.
Locations that have benefited from the feed-in tariffs include solar villages in Newark on Trent, as well as various housing association initiatives around the country. The use of solar panels for these plans, helped by the development of more easily installed panels, has created an estimated £10,000 in savings across estates. In some areas, homes are set to receive 2,125 KWH outputs for their homes, or approximately one-third of their home energy use. Tariffs also mean that users can potentially receive an annual income of £800-900 for the energy they generate, as well as £200 in electricity savings. The benefits have been even clearer for farmers, where installations can generate £16,000 in energy sales a year, as well as £1,800 in bill savings.
However, there have been some recent disputes over the feed-in tariffs. In 2011 the government announced plans to reduce solar tariffs, with the justification that the share of renewable energy funding was overwhelmingly geared towards solar. With 29,000 jobs dependent on the solar industry in the UK, significant pressure was placed on the government to reverse its plans, and by January 2012 the Court of Appeals ruled against the proposed cuts. The result has been an ongoing series of debates over the rate of feed-in tariffs. Expectations are that new tariffs will gradually be reduced.
In this way, the UK’s solar industry faces a still positive, if somewhat less well-funded future. Existing operating plans should continue to benefit from investment to cover the costs of capital construction, while rewarding users with payments for their energy. But the UK still lags somewhat behind solar use in EU countries like Spain, and far behind the current global leader China, which has a 5-gigawatt energy capacity.
About the Author: Serena Grant is the daughter of a qualified electrician and is currently studying to be an electrician herself, following in Father’s footsteps. She also has a keen interest in the environment and the world around us. Serena would recommend Discount Electrical for various electrical supplies, including quality Aico smoke alarms.
Art: UK flag overlaid over wind generators and solar panels from Shutterstock