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The High Court has agreed to hear applications by Friends of the Earth and two solar companies – Solarcentury and HomeSun – for permission to challenge Government plans to slash financial incentives for solar electricity on Thursday 15 December 2011.

Confirmation of the hearing follows an earlier High Court ruling [Friday 25 November 2011] rejecting permission for a legal challenge. The organisations are now asking the High Court to reverse the decision and allow a hearing into the legal challenges as soon as possible.

Friends of the Earth is also asking the High Court to cap its potential legal costs for the case. International rules specify that costs should be limited in public interest cases on the environment.

The legal challenges centre around Government plans to slash feed-in tariff subsidies – payments made to households and communities that generate green electricity through solar panels – on any installations completed after 12 December this year. The Government is currently running a consultation into feed-in tariffs – but the 12 December cut-off point comes two weeks before the consultation ends. Friends of the Earth says this premature decision is unlawful and has already led to unfinished or planned projects being abandoned.

Solar is a growing, successful industry. The premature cuts could cost up to 29,000 jobs and lose the Treasury up to £230 million a year in tax income, a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth and Cut Don’t Kill – an alliance of solar firms and consumer and environmental organisations – revealed last month. Last week construction firm Carillion warned 4,500 workers their jobs are at risk because of the Government’s proposals.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said:

“We strongly believe Government plans to abruptly slash solar subsidies are illegal, we hope the High Court agrees to allow our case to be heard as soon as possible.

“We’ve also asked the High Court to cap our potential costs. International rules say this should be allowed in public interest cases on the environment – we can’t afford to bring a challenge if we face unlimited liability for the other side’s legal fees.

“In a time of economic gloom, the solar industry has been one of the UK’s brightest success stories, enabling homes and communities across the country to free themselves from expensive fossil fuels.

“It’s short sighted for Ministers to move the goalposts and prematurely pull the subsidy – this will cost tens of thousands of jobs, bankrupt businesses and reduce Treasury income by up to £230m a year.”

Join us in lobbying Parliament on 22nd November.

An urgent message from the UK solar industry.
Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk within the next few weeks.
View our campaign video here,
The Big Solar Backtrack.

Join here at www.oursolarfuture.org.uk
In 2007 David Cameron pledged his support for feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. On the 31st October 2011 his government slashed feed-in tariffs by 50%. This move threatens 4,000 businesses and tens of thousands of solar jobs in the UK. David, do you believe in green growth or not? ‘Cut, don’t kill solar’, support our solar future at www.oursolarfuture.org.uk

 


As the Government’s solar energy Feed in Tariff is reduced to 21p per kilowatt generated, and the 2012 deadline brought forward; consumers have been left confused as to what this means for the future of solar energy in the UK.

 

Save Energy Renewables, part of the Save Energy Group, has been in the renewable energy sector since 2002, long before the government feed in tariff was introduced in April 2010.  The introduction of the tariff, at 41p per kilowatt generated, was designed to kick start the take up of renewable energy in the UK and bring us in line with leading European countries such as Germany.  In its second year the tariff increased to 43.3p, but was widely regarded by the industry as high and unlikely to sustain.

 

The tariff is reviewed on an annual basis and was due to change again from March 31st 2012, with much speculation as to what that might be.  The announcement came on the 31st October that the new figure would be reduced to 21p, however, what the industry was not expecting was the 12th December 2011 cut off point – fast-tracked from the original 2012 deadline.  Therefore, only solar PV systems installed and commissioned by this date would be eligible for the 43.3p tariff.  This put an unprecedented strain on the renewable energy industry, and will almost certainly result in many smaller companies, or those with a less than perfect infrastructure going out of business.

 

As to why this date was brought forward, lies heavily in the surge for ‘free solar’ with companies setting up to take advantage of the tariff by renting roof space from consumers who benefited from reduced energy bills, while they reap earnings from the tariff for the next twenty five years.  The budget put in place to assist homeowners simply ran out.

 

The new tariff rate of 21p is now set at a sustainable level for the long term. It will ensure the tariff is available for its predicted lifespan, until the cost of the energy rises to meet the percentage that can be earned through the tariff – namely grid parity.   Steve Randall, Sales & Marketing Director: “This is extremely good news and represents a very healthy 8-10% increasing return on investment for those who choose renewable energy as the way forward.  It also represents twice what can be achieved by the high street banks.  As a business we count ourselves among the lucky ones, with a strong infrastructure both logistically and financially.  As we have been in the business for over a decade we also have strong buying power with suppliers, savings we can pass to our customers.”

 

Solar energy has been embraced by the UK for many years due to the inevitable savings on energy bills.  The fact that the cost of energy will only rise will see consumers continue to do so with the added benefit of the feed in tariff which is all the more attractive here in the South which enjoys far longer hours of daylight than the North.

 

Steve Randall concludes:  “The best way for consumers to judge whether solar energy is for them is to look at their electricity bill today, and multiply that by the life of the tariff which is twenty five years.  The option is rent your energy at a rising cost per year, or take ownership of it today. There is further good news in the marketplace as we have seen product prices lower and level out, so when visitors come to our showroom we are able to share more attractive pricing terms.

steve.randall@saveenergygroup.co.uk

 


 

 

Long before he became the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientific advisor, David Mackay lectured a course at Cambridge on how to perform back of the envelope calculations called ‘Order of Magnitude Physics.’ To teach the course, Prof. Mackay used a series of example calculations based on renewable energy. Little did I know that the examples he was using would later become part of a book he was writing (and little did he know of the fame and career change that it would bring) but it was listening to these lectures during my undergraduate that confirmed my ambition to work in the solar energy industry.

Already extremely concerned by the growing evidence for ‘human-caused’ climate change, Prof Mackay’s course taught me some astonishing facts, such as how the amount of solar energy delivered to the Earth is ten thousand times the total amount of energy we use over the course of a year. He made me realise that human civilisation has a huge amount of work to do to halt its greenhouse emissions, but he also gave me the hope through new technologies, we really can wean ourselves off fossil fuels without impacting our quality of lives too severely.

After a PhD and several years working in solar photovoltaics for a large company in Germany, I returned to the UK and was astonished to find that the Government has extremely low ambitions for solar energy and even more astonished that it is using David Mackay’s analysis, at least in part, to justify this. At present, the Treasury’s £360m cap on Feed-in tariffs means that support for solar PV at all scales will end by mid-2012 and limit solar PV capacity in the UK to less than 3% of Germany’s current installed base.

When I re-read Mackay’s key book ‘Sustainability Without the Hot Air,’ I find it paints a very compelling argument for solar energy. Prof Mackay repeatedly points out that solar energy can deliver far more energy than any other renewable energy technology in the UK, as illustrated by the fact that the amount of solar energy we receive in the UK is fifty times the total amount of energy we use, including transport and heating. At the time of writing, David Mackay singled out two hurdles for widespread solar adoption in the UK; cost and space. It seems as though these hurdles have been interpreted by the Government as insurmountable barriers, whereas careful re-examination of these hurdles using up-to-date figures reveals them to be significantly less onerous than Mackay first assumed.

In relation to costs, David Mackay states ”it will be wonderful if the cost of photovoltaic power drops in the same way that the cost of computer power has dropped over the last forty years.” This is exactly what has been demonstrated over the last 5 years. Jenny Chase, a solar energy analyst at the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance claims “In 2011 we expect an oversupply of solar panels which will put continued downward pressure on system prices.” In his book, David Mackay uses a solar electricity cost of €0.25 per kWh which is 4 times current wholesale electricity costs, but only twice the price of retail electricity, and seeing as prices have continued to fall exponentially since the time of writing in 2008 we can expect this gap to be closed fast. In fact, the cost of solar energy is falling much faster than that of any other energy technology to the point where it is the expected to compete with unsubsidized retail electricity prices in UK latitudes by 2014/2015 [1]. In contrast, the cost of nuclear energy has risen 5 fold since 1970 according to a recent study by Yale University’s Arnulf Grubler [2]. By supporting the solar industry now, it will soon be able to support itself without subsidy.

Digging deeper into the Government’s original modelling of overall ambition for PV, the Renewable Energy Association has found that a mid-range future fossil fuel price scenario was used which assumes a cost of $80 per barrel of oil in 2020 (which is unlikely considering current prices are frequently above $100). By using such unrealistic forecasts, the value of investment in solar energy is being systematically undervalued.

The second issue that Prof Mackay raises is with the amount of area required to get large amounts of solar energy. Whilst there is a vast amount of solar energy available to us in the UK, that energy is disperse, meaning you do indeed need to cover a considerable area in solar panels to cover our electricity needs. Prof Mackay points out that to get our current electricity (50 units of electricity per person per day) needs would require 200m2 per person. This is a huge amount of area, but it’s important to realise that reaching that target is highly plausible. The total amount of roof space per person in England is 47m2, domestic gardens 114m2, and roads and open spaces make up 60m2 and 2300m2 per person respectively [3], so by using a proportion of roof space and a small proportion of open space we could certainly get close to 200m2. Its important to point out that open space does not mean prime farmland, there are many brown field sites that could be put to good use. Nor do solar panels on open space prohibit the use of that land for other means. When placed in fields for example, solar arrays can still permit some animal grazing and in other countries, solar arrays are often positioned along motorway banks or as canopies above car parks.

Obviously getting between 100m2 and 200m2 of solar panels per person in the UK would be a gigantean undertaking and one that would change the look of our country, but this would be just one of a long line of gigantean undertakings that have taken place in our history. The expansion of organised farming, the construction of road and rail networks, and more recently the construction of electricity and mobile phone grids were all projects that have profoundly changed our country and its appearance. Just because the task may be large, does not make it impractical. In the UK we happily resurface 60m2 of road per person every 5-10 years.

Solar energy has already proven itself highly popular in the UK. It is one of the few technologies that can be produced effectively on a domestic scale giving power to families to generate their own electricity. Solar energy can also be deployed staggeringly quickly. In 2010 alone Germany installed 8GW of solar energy distributed among over 200,000 individual installations. That is equivalent to over two nuclear power stations, and there is no way those nuclear power stations could be built so quickly.

There is a misconception that micro-generation does not result in large amounts of energy, but multiplied thousands of times, the amount of energy we can harvest from small solar installations is enormous. The UK will of course need a balanced mix of different energy technologies, but lets give solar its rightful place alongside the other major forms of energy generation. As Prof Mackay points out; ‘to complete a plan that adds up, we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. Or use nuclear power. Or both.’

1. AT Kearney Report; ‘The True Value of Photovoltaics for Germany’ 2010
2. Arnulf Grubler, Yale University; ‘The costs of the French nuclear scale-up: A case of negative learning by doing’ Energy Policy, 2010
3. Department for Communities and Local Government, Land Use Statistics (Generalised Land Use Database) 2005, www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/generalisedlanduse

Dr Toby Ferenczi