The much debated, tweeted, blogged and indeed refreshing government legislation, the feed-in tariff, which is to become reality on April 1 could transform micro-generation from cottage industry to nationwide norm within the next few years according to Steven Harris. Harris, as head of low carbon technologies at the Energy Savings Trust (EST) believes that with the tariff legislation in place, the UK will be in good shape to see a large scale uptake of renewable technologies, something which he believes only a few years ago would have been incomprehensible.
“The poor old cottage industry of renewable energy will not know what’s hit it. People could be forgiven for waiting to install these technologies up until this point, but once the tariff comes in, things could change rapidly,” states Harris who certainly knows how difficult it has been to bring about a change in attitudes towards the viabilty and importance of green technologies.
Harris who along with his colleague Bill Dunstar created the BedZed village project featuring carbon neutral housing in the Surrey commuter town of Wallington ten years ago can easily recall the derision which green ideas were met with at the time. The project which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2003 highlighted the potential feasibility of sustainable materials and carbon neutral building at a time when such ideas were far from the mainstream. Harris recalls,
“It’s amazing when you sit in meetings now; people are saying exactly the same stuff that was laughed at when we were starting BedZed. Back then, things such as using reclaimed materials, sustainability assessments, local sourcing, having an ecological footprint… they were just not on the construction agenda, let alone the housing agenda.”
With the introduction of the feed-in tariff at the beginning of next month the situation has changed dramatically for micro-generation projects such as BedZed pioneered by Harris and Dunstar. The tariff will offer small-scale generators of green energy guaranteed, premium rates for energy fed-back in to the national grid and will thereby seek to offset the obvious costs involved in installing renewable technologies. With annual returns of £500 expected for households with solar PV installed, the industry is hopeful that the solar industry has the potential to take off with the backing of the tariff.
Steven Harris certainly believes that solar micro-generation could become widespread with the tariff mechanism incentivising investment and see the BedZed project become reality within the next decade.
“Solar technology has really moved forward. In China, it’s illegal not to put thermal solar on your roof, but they have the advantage of a totalitarian state. The fact that they have to manufacture panels for billions of people has really driven down the cost of solar. I know when we first started BedZed, the payback on a panel was around 75 years; now it’s about 12.”