Posts tagged with: renewable feed-in tariff

Since the intoduction of the government’s feed-in tariff scheme in April 2010, renewable energy and the potential for individuals to cash in has been a running theme in the British media. While certain newspapers have taken a negative view of the potential for green energy and an even dimmer view of some of the companies attempting to take advantage of the new legislation, there is little doubt that feed-in tariffs have had a big impact on the British mindset on renewables.

Historically reactive and often adverse to change, the British public is becoming increasingly aware of the financial rewards that can come from investing in renewable energy based on feed-in tariff pay outs both for the energy used by the household and energy fed back into the national grid. Once commercially unviable, feed-in tariffs work by offering premium, guaranteed rates to renewable micro-generator thus off-setting the high costs of solar panels while offering attractive returns to investors over a period of 20-25 years. This financial mechanism has led to a great deal of companies springing up with offers to fit solar panels to households for free, the benefit to the homeowner being reduced utility bills and the benefit to the companies being long term returns from the tariff.

Indeed, British Gas research alone has shown that the tariff will spur around half of Britain’s homes to eventually invest in solar panels, bringing in an annual revenue of between £600 and £1000. The national grid, which has been criticised of late for its perceived inability to cope with the shift towards green energy has released findings about the future for solar energy in the UK. Certainly, with the UK on target to meet its climate change targets within the next decade, it seems that solar photovoltaic (pv) should also go from strength to strength on the back of the tariff legislation. The national grid has shown that within the next 10 years around 31,950 MW of solar panels will be connected.

The national grid has shown that around 29,000 MW will be needed to exceed government targets of generating 15 per cent of energy by renewable means. This would mean enough energy to power around 20 million homes, a massive change in the way energy is both generated and consumed in the UK. The national grid has shown that while we are certainly on the right track in order to bring about a root change in the way the UK generates energy, the government has to remain focused on renewable energy. With a review of tariff rates due, it will be essential that the government maintains a tariff rate which continues to incentivise long-term investment.

With the British government currently assessing the details of the feed-in tariff which is to be introduced in 2010, they will undoubtedly heed the example of Spain and the way in which the government there failed to live up to the initial expectations of the tariff. Spain, despite having one of the strongest photovoltaic sectors in the world, failed to capitalize on the successes of the solar industry there by changing the way PV investment was subsidized, something which has led to a steep decline in photovoltaic investment and installation in that country.

In conjunction with the global financial crisis which has taken a particularly strong hold of the Spanish economy, the reduction in solar investment has contributed to a culling of jobs and cutbacks in PV manufacturing in Spain, something which will see a surplus of PV plant being exported to growing solar sectors elsewhere in the world.

Industry insiders in the UK have put pressure on the government and lobbied the Department of Energy and Climate Change by expressing the importance of a feed-in tariff which stimulates sector growth by offering incentives and security to investors. It is generally accepted that a tariff rate of at least 20p per unit of electricity fed-in to the national grid by small scale energy suppliers would be sufficient in part to kick-start the solar industry in the UK following its inauguration in 2010.

Certainly, elsewhere where comprehensive feed-in tariff legislation has been introduced there have been marked successes in the uptake of photovoltaic technology and job creation in renewable industries. In Germany for example, the feed-in tariff legislation has proved to be consistent and generous in the provisions offered to those wishing to invest in the German green sector. Indeed, the German tariff model is often held up as an example of how to incentivise investment and build public awareness.

Spain is expected to experience a dramatic reduction in photovoltaic installation in 2009 with 375MW compared to 2008 installations of 2,500MW. Spain will now fail to live up to its ambitions of becoming the European Union’s leading renewable energy producer by 2020 largely because the Zapatero’s government has neglected the tariff scheme across the country. The introduction of a 500MW project cap along with the withdrawal of essential subsidies has seen the solar industry stagnate and since the new year, decline. Members of the solar industry in the UK will therefore be hoping that the British government follows the example of Germany rather than Spain in the way that they choose to roll out the much talked about feed-in tariff next year.


According to a Solarbuzz market report, solar investment in the Czech Republic increased 17 fold since 2007 due to the strong feed-in tariff there. Last year 50.8 megawatts of solar plant were installed in the Czech Republic compared to just 3 megawatts in 2007 representing a huge increase in solar investment. The Czech solar market, although still small compared to the European renewable giants Germany and Spain, has grown exponentially since the introduction of a feed-in tariff in 2005.

The Czech feed-in tariff has been extremely successful at attracting investment as it pays the highest rate for renewable electricity of any other European tariff. Currently set at 12.79Koruny per unit of energy fed-in to the grid (44p), the rate makes solar investment a very viable option for investors looking to diversify their portfolios by moving towards green shares. In the light of the recent economic downturn and the drawing in of purse strings in most sectors, solar offers investors a yield on their investment protected by government legislation. The Prague government has set itself the target of reducing its carbon emissions by producing 8 per cent of its energy by renewable means by 2010 and will therefore look to protect the solar industry within its borders.

While the Spanish solar market is still 48 times bigger than that of the Czech Republic, the Spanish sector has experienced a slowing due to the reduction of the rate of its feed-in tariff when the 500 megawatt cap was reached bring the rate paid down from 0.42 euros to 0.32 euros. This fall in the feed-in tariff rate was reflected by a marked reduction in Spanish solar plant and provides a warning to governments looking to sustain a boom over a long period. Jenny Chase of New Energy Finance commented that,

“I know some developers that were in Spain are now in business school because the market’s over, and some have moved to the Czech Republic”.

The Spanish example of the shrinkage after the initial 2007 boom will provide a warning to governments looking to implement their own feed-in tariffs in the near future. Certainly, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will implement the feed-in tariff in the UK by the end of 2010 and are currently undergoing consultancy as to how to finance the tariff. Industry insiders have petitioned the government demanding at least a 40p/unit rate for electricity fed-in to the grid over a long term period of around 20 years. The Czech government have been extremely successful thus far and will continue to use their tariff system to attract investment in solar.

As a solution to the global economic crisis, Gordon Brown has called for an international ‘Green New Deal’ in order to spark investment in new technologies and create jobs in the emerging renewable sector. In reference to F.D. Roosevelt’s economic plan to revitalise the US economy during the Great Depression the Prime Minister explained that he believes striving to evolve the UK in to a low carbon economy will create jobs while at the same time help the government to meet its climate change targets.

The British government has already set the target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and have taken some measures to instigate this reduction. Overseeing this gradual change towards a low carbon economy will be the Secretary of State for the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Milliband. The minister has already advocated government investment in renewable energy technology and research and was a key figure behind last November’s Energy Act which set out the main provisions for government funding for green energy and paved the way for the implementation of a feed-in tariff in 2010.

Despite these changes, some environmental lobbies and members of the renewable industry have criticized the government for not providing enough funding for green projects and not setting out a concrete breakdown of the feed-in tariff which will be necessary to attract investment as it has done for example in Germany. Spokesman for Friends for the Earth, Andy Atkins summed up the frustration in certain circles by commenting,

“We need urgent and decisive action, not more token gestures and hot air.”

Gordon Brown is confident that the green sector will provide some relief to the recession in the jobs that it creates, not just in the UK but globally and he was keen to make this point last week at a summit in London. The prime minister produced the results of an independent report which states that the renewable energy sector will generate around 400,000 new jobs within the next 8 years meaning that by 2017 1.3 million people will be involved in the renewable sector in the UK.

During his historic visit to Washington last week for his meeting with US President Barack Obama, Brown stated that it was imperative both for the economy and the environment that changes are made to the way governments approach renewable funding stating,

“We know that the more we are able to co-ordinate these measures internationally, the more confidence and certainty we will build and the more investment we will be able to bring forward.  That’s why I want to create a global ‘green new deal’ that will pave the way for a low-carbon recovery and to help us build tomorrow’s green economy today.”

Key to this shift towards a low carbon economy is the feed-in tariff which has already proved extremely successful where it has been implemented elsewhere. Members of the industry have already expressed the need for a tariff which is more than a token gesture and is able to attract investors through coherent, long term, viable contracts. Some have suggested that a rate of 50p per unit of kWh energy fed-in to the grid by renewable systems under 5 Megawatts would be sufficient to help Britain catch up with nations such as Germany where feed-in tariffs are now well established. The feed-in tariff rate is crucial as it will offset the cost of producing energy by renewable means by offering investors long term contracts with fixed rates for their megawatts production.

Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth, regarding the summit and the need for government action on tariffs and project funding added,

“Today’s summit is an encouraging development, but ministers must grasp the scale of the challenge we face. We need urgent and decisive action, not more token gestures and hot air”.