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Monthly archives: February 2010

After the long wait we finally know for sure the amount to be paid to producers of solar electricity under the clean energy cash back scheme. The result of a consultation process lasting 6 months, the initial outlook for solar energy in the UK is positive.

In comparison with the provisional figures released last year, there has been an across the board increase in the generation tariff paid per kWh for all sizes of installations. The table below shows the feed in tariff as they stand now;

Installation Size

Price paid for energy generated (p/kWh)

Lifetime

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

4kW (new build)

36.1

36.1

33

25

4KW (retrofit)

41.3

41.3

37.8

25

4-10kW

36.1

36.1

33

25

10-100kW

31.4

31.4

28.7

25

100kW-5MW

29.3

29.3

26.8

25

Stand alone systems

29.3

29.3

26.8

25

There some important new features of the arrangement;

-         The export tariff (the amount paid when energy is fed into the grid) is reduced to 3p/kWh. This will increase the motivation for generators to use the energy for themselves since retail electricity prices are normally significantly more than 3p/kWh.

-         The lifetime of the FIT is 25 years. This is in line with other feed in tariffs around Europe and increases the attractiveness of solar (compared with 20 years) as it increases the security of the investment.

-         The feed in tariffs are linked to inflation. This means payments will increase over time in absolute terms. This is something that we had been campaigning for as ‘inflation risk’ is a significant worry that we have encountered in prospective solar producers.

-         The feed in tariffs can be legally assigned to any party. This allows room for innovative leasing models that are popular in Europe and the US where the either a third party leases roof space or a home owner leases the solar panels system.

Our initial calculations show that this level of tariff should result in 7-8% annual returns for homeowners retrofitting PV systems under 4kW. This means solar will compete with the best investment funds out there for investors pounds.

For Solarfeedintariff.co.uk this announcement represents a positive move by the government. It shows that during the consultation process it has listened to voices in the solar industry (hopefully including ours) and taken note of what is happening in the rest of Europe. Germany has shown that microgeneration, in particular solar PV generation can contribute very significant amounts of the nation’s energy and that a feed-in-tariff is the best way to encourage this growth.

Claims that have recently been made in the press that solar panels are merely ‘eco-bling,’ exhibit complete ignorance of what is happening in the rest of the world. Unfortunately this is a common attitude in the UK, the last major European economy to implement a feed-in-tariff. Hopefully, now with the tariff announced, this will change. We fully expect strong growth in the UK solar industry. This is a good day for Britain and our hopes of achieving our emissions targets.

Stay tuned for more updates.

On Friday rumours emerged that the German government is likely to significantly reduce the price paid for electricity produced by solar panels. Furthermore, the reduction may be made as early as April rather than in July as previously anticipated.

We expect an official announcement this week and will update you then but the rumours alone have already sparked hefty losses in solar energy stocks around the world. This is not surprising considering how large a proportion of the world solar market Germany represents. In 2009, close to 4GW of solar energy capacity were installed. The next biggest markets, Italy, France and the US were a maximum of 1 GW each. If demand drops significantly in Germany, it could lead to more pain for solar equipment manufacturers.

Personally, I believe a significant reduction in Germany’s feed-in-tariff is a good thing for the industry. Things got out of hand in 2009 as installers and manufacturers (particularly inverter manufacturers) struggled to meet demand. Everyone wants the solar industry to grow, but it must be stable growth. Too much too soon and there isn’t enough time for problems to resolved.

For example, in the southern part of Germany, solar energy makes up close to 5% of all energy production now. This is already causing problems for the electricity grid because of the intermittency of solar power. If solar energy were to grow more slowly, these problems could be dealt with as they arise.

The other problem of the feed-in-tariff is that it was making people too rich. Solar farms in Germany are providing 10-15% annual returns virtually risk free. No hedge fund can offer that. Given the risk of a solar investment, the return needs only to compete with long-term savings accounts, so if they provide just a 4% return, that should still be attractive. It is hard to predict what the effect of the drop in feed in tariff will be. Certainly, if the return on investment is lowered, there will be a reduced incentive and less of the ‘urgency’ which gave rise to the boom of last year. However, if there is still a reasonable, positive return on investment, then large numbers of people will still take up the opportunity. If someone handing out 20 pound notes switches to giving out 10 pound notes, would people start walking away?

On the verge of releasing details of the UK feed-in-tariff, what does is the message for UK policy makers observing this 17% cut? Why should they listen to the voices calling for an increase in the tariff whilst all our neighbours are busy cutting theirs? I would ask the government not to waiver in their commitment to growing the UK solar industry. The market in Germany is one thousand times greater than that of the UK (4 gigawatts compared to roughly 4 megawatts last year). The Germans have created an efficient industry with that is able to provide solar installations at competitive prices. The UK industry has not got off the ground yet. We must provide a decent incentive so that people begin to accept the concept of solar energy in the UK.

The experience of Germany shows that subsidies do not have to be provided forever, however the industry must be there before you can scale back.

My message to policy makers is this; we have a lot of catching out up to do, so don’t lose your nerve before we have even started.

In a letter written to the Guardian by Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FOE), they have outlined their belief that the government is not doing enough to promote small-scale renewable energy generation in the UK.

The letter published on Jan 18th in the national daily newspaper asserted that the government’s proposed targets of producing two per cent of all energy by renewable means by 2020 is too low, and that the UK government should drastically increase its ambition if there is to be a realistic hope of fighting climate change through carbon emission reduction.

Initiatives such as the creation of the department of Energy and Climate change, the passing of the Energy Act in 2008 and the more recent announcement of the imminent introduction of a Clean Energy Cash Back Scheme have done little to allay the concerns of FOE. In a statement issued by the influential environmental group Executive Director, Andy Atkins he commented that,

“Businesses generating their own clean electricity will reduce their energy bills, increase their competitiveness and reduce their vulnerability to future fossil energy price rises.

He added, “Setting higher feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewable generators could treble the amount of renewable electricity generation by 2020 compared with the proposed scheme.”

With similar pressure groups such as We Support Solar urging the government to deliver higher targets with regards to 2020 renewable energy generation there is a mounting media pressure for the government to match its rhetoric with results.

If initiatives such as the Clean Energy Cash Back scheme fail to bring about a wholesale change in Energy production within the next five years, we can certainly expect further disquiet from those with a real desire to see the effects of climate change brought to an end.