Uncertainty is harming solar sector, PM warned

More than 150 businesses from across the solar power industry and beyond have joined forces to warn David Cameron of the threat to a sector that could be worth almost £80 billion globally by the end of the decade.
The coalition of companies will urge the prime minister to back the thriving sector. Picture: Jane BarlowThe coalition of companies will urge the prime minister to back the thriving sector. Picture: Jane Barlow
The coalition of companies will urge the prime minister to back the thriving sector. Picture: Jane Barlow

The coalition of companies, which includes furniture giant Ikea, will ­submit a letter to the Prime Minister today urging him to back the “thriving” sector.

The submission comes on the day the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) closes its consultation on proposed changes to support for solar power. Critics argue that the proposals are already having a damaging effect on parts of the industry.

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Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association (STA), which organised the letter, said: “Solar is a home-grown solution to Britain’s energy crisis. If the government provides a stable policy environment, solar will soon be subsidy-free.

“But the government is now proposing to tilt the playing field against large-scale solar, while not taking sufficient action to unlock commercial rooftop solar – that is unacceptable.”

The letter highlights the “critical importance” of commercial and industrial roof installations, as well as solar farms, in delivering low-cost solar power. It urges the PM to secure the UK industry, with an eye on the £78bn global solar market anticipated in 2020.

The signatories, which also include Ecotricity, Kyocera, Triodos Bank and the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology at Loughborough University, underline the “very positive benefits” that solar parity can deliver for UK businesses, including improving international competitiveness, lower energy price inflation and improved electricity sector competition.

The STA argues that, despite the vision set out in the DECC’s “Solar PV Strategy” of solar booming across large roofs, the current policy framework is not enabling this to happen.

Barwell said: “We urge the DECC not to close the renewables obligation to large-scale solar and to rethink proposals on feed-in tariffs to allow a meaningful rooftop market which their own Solar PV Strategy recognises has such tremendous potential.

“The level of policy uncertainty risks derailing the extraordinary progress the large-scale industry has made in delivering jobs and reducing technology costs in the last few years. It is also putting the UK’s position in the booming global solar market at risk.

“So serious are the implications of these consultations for the British solar industry that we are asking the Prime Minister to intervene.”

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Jeremy Leggett, chairman of SolarAid and non-executive chairman of SolarCentury, who was also due to hand the letter over to Downing Street today, said: “Despite all of the incredible achievements of the UK solar industry since 2010, it’s still very clear that the Whitehall mindset has yet to catch up.

“Too much of the wording in the current solar consultation has the whiff of Groundhog Day about it. It’s time that the government woke up to the fact that, with stable support, jobs rich UK solar will be cheaper than onshore wind during the next Parliament.

“Far from slamming the brakes on large-scale solar, the Prime Minister should be hailing it as one of Britain’s renewable energy success stories and getting behind it. Instead he prefers to push fracking, even in national parks.”

According to the STA, Britain’s solar industry comprises more than 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses, supporting about 16,000 jobs. The not-for-profit association was established in 1978 and since 2011 has been affiliated to the Renewable Energy Association. The signed letter was due to be handed in at noon.