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The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has today announced they will press ahead with their 1st August cut off date for large scale solar farms

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said, “I want to drive an ambitious roll out of new green energy technologies in homes, communities and small businesses and the FiT scheme has a vital part to play in building a more decentralised energy economy.

“We have carefully considered the evidence that has been presented as part of the consultation and this has reinforced my conviction of the need to make changes as a matter of urgency. Without action the scheme would be overwhelmed. The new tariffs will ensure a sustained growth path for the solar industry while protecting the money for householders, small businesses and communities and will also further encourage the uptake of green electricity from anaerobic digestion.”

The new tariffs (below) will go ahead from August 1, 2011 and will apply to all new market entrants.

>50 kW – ≤ 150 kW Total Installed Capacity (TIC) - 19.0p/ kWh
>150 kW – ≤ 250 kW TIC – 15.0p/ kWh
250 kW – 5 MW TIC and stand-alone installations – 8.5p/ kWh

This effectively writes off large scale solar in the U.K. For a government that is attempting to be green this is a huge step backwards.

Greg Barker has ensured that for the same cost there will be less green energy produced. Here at solar feed in tariff we believe this is a terrible move for U.K policy.

 

With the government’s consultation on proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff drawing to a close, solar industry members are anxious to see how drastic changes to the tariff will be. Many involved within the UK solar industry are fearful that reductions in the solar tariff of up to 70 per cent for pv energy generators over 50MW. Whatever the nature of changes to the solar feed-in tariff mechanism, it is more than likely that the worst affected will be large scale installations such as the large scale solar farm sites which were looking to tap into tariff revenue.

The solar feed-in tariff works by guaranteeing fixed, premium rates for units of energy both used and fed-back into the grid by small scale pv generators. The government has made it clear that it would like to see households benefitting from this scheme rather that large scale projects. Indeed, smaller scale solar businesses have argued that this change is necessary to ensure that funding goes to those areas which most need capital. While this may be the case, other solar businesses have stressed vehemently that strong tariff support for larger scale projects is essential as it will be those projects whch drive the industry, bring costs down and of course put impetus on technological innovation.

Whatever the differentiation between small and large scale projects made by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the essential fact is that reducing the feed-in tariff will harm the UK solar industry by significantly reducing investor confidence in solar projects. All previous research and experience from abroad has shown that a strong tariff system is needed in order to provide investors in solar pv with long term returns on investment protected by government legislation; where these tariffs fall by the wayside, investor confidence in ROI tends to as well. Many within the industry have therefore been lobbying the government incessently, trying to convince the DECC of the need to rethink proposed cuts. Leonnie Greene of the Renewable Energy Association stated that,

“Our view is that the overall ambition is much too low and the government clearly does not understand the strategic importance of solar. We are going back to a scenario where a few wealthy green home owners can install solar, when we want to be widening access to solar, particularly through community scale projects.”

The early review of the UK solar feed-in tariff has caused consternation within the industry, still in its infancy and reliant on the tariff for log term viability. Chris Huhne, Secretary of the Department of Energy and Climate Change made the announcement this week that the FIT would be reviewed in light of the “threat” to the scheme posed by large scale solar projects which have begun to take advantage of the scheme. This combined with the recent spending review which will make it necessary to cut 10 per cent from the tariff rates.

The feed-in tariff was introduced as a means of attracting investment in solar energy and greatly increasing uptake in solar pv panels in the UK. The tariff works by offering guaranteed, premium rates for units of energy both consumed and fed back into the grid for small scale renewable energy producers. This tariff has been very successful at attracting investors and manufacturers alike, all keen to tap into the revenue which can be generated from the feed-in tariff. However, Huhne believes that the feed-in tariff has perhaps been too attractive with a number of large solar farms developing under the system. The DECC secretary stated,

“Since the Spending Review, I have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of large scale solar PV projects under FITs, which . . . could, if left unchecked, take a disproportionate amount of available funding or even break the cap on total funding,”

Solar Trade Association spokesman, Howard Johns lamented this news saying,

This is really bad news for the solar industry in the UK. Last week Ministers welcomed the study showing that 17,000 jobs would be created by the industry in 2011. This week has seen them once again changing the goal posts and threatening investment and jobs in the sector.”

The sun hasn’t shone much over the Christmas period however, the lead up to the Christmas period saw a refocus by the UK government on solar photovoltaic energy. Announced on the 22nd of December, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consultancy will look at microgeneration and the way the UK government can help small scale renewable energy through mechanisms such as the feed-in tariff which has already proved successful.

The feed-in tariff, introduced back in April incentivises investment in renewable microgeneration by offering fixed, premium rates for units of energy both used and fed back into the grid. Already, this mechanism has seen a huge growth in solar pv investment with traditional industries such as farming taking advantage of the profits to be made out of solar panels. Despite this government support for renewable energy, there are some fears that if the plug is pulled on the tariff too soon,

future projects and of course the future of UK renewable energy will be jeopardised indefinitely.

The consultancy which will last until March 2011 will endeavour to ensure that the longevity of UK renewable energy is secured through foresight and careful legislation. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has stated that the consultancy will focus on ‘quality, technology, skills and information’ and that ‘consumers need confidence that microgeneration kit will be of good quality. The industry needs to develop the technologies, the supply chain needs skilled workers to install kit and consumers need good information on microgeneration’.

Announcing the consultancy, Energy Minister Greg Barker said,

“We’ve already pledged financial support to encourage people to install kit like solar panels and heat pumps, today’s consultation will ensure that the industry and consumers have the confidence to invest.”

Certainly, while the financial mechanisms are in place for the time being, consumer confidence is still lacking in what is a fledgling industry not always attracting responsible business operations. Speaking on behalf of the more responsible side of solar energy operations, Dave Snowden head of the Micropower Council said,

“We have already seen extraordinary growth in microgeneration power generation solutions thanks to the introduction of the feed in tariff earlier this year, and look forward to similar incentives being extended to renewable heating and hot water systems next June. Today’s welcome proposals will help the industry grow with proper attention to quality, technology and skills development, whilst making it all much easier for consumers.”