I’m the chair of PRASEG (the Parliamentary Renewable and sustainable energy group). They maintain a useful website with, among other things transcripts of presentations to seminars, conferences and meetings. You can find it here.
The reason I mention it is that the group runs a ‘Solar PV forum’ which, unsurprisingly, discusses and promotes all things solar PV. The forum has been active recently in lobbying on the future of Feed-in Tariffs (FITS) now available to underpin the roll-out, mainly on domestic roofs, of solar PV installations. This week members of the forum meet with Greg Barker, the Energy and Climate Change minister to discuss the fall-out form the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Feed in Tariff.
The story so far (for those who get out enough not to follow it all!) is that Feed in Tariffs for solar PV were introduced last spring after much campaigning to develop methods which really could get microgeneration off the ground as a serious corner of the renewable advance – we were supposed to have a similar incentive for renewable heat – the RHI (or Renewable Heat Incentive) introduced at the same time, but that has been delayed until next spring. More of that on another occasion….
FITs really do the business for PV microgeneration – you get, as many will know, a fixed amount per kilowatt hour of solar electricity generation; enough to make installing a solar roof pay back in a reasonable timescale, and at the same time avoiding the use of grid based fossil energy. That FITS has already begun to work well can be seen in the DECC estimates of the number of Solar installations since the spring – some 10,000 units across the country, compared with a few hundred per year before then. And it is almost getting to be mainstream – companies like Marks and Spencer are advertising schemes to take your FITs off you in return for a free installation and all the electricity you can use from it. Magazines like Which? are debating the wisdom of taking up such schemes as against asking your friendly bank manager (they do continue to exist – Banks, that is, for the time being) for a loan and taking the FIT for yourself. All this was becoming established in a very short time.
Then we had the Comprehensive Spending Review. Rumours abounded that the Government was going to cancel FITS – and even what looked to some as ‘softening up’ pieces from commentators reporting on how profligate FITS were, and how the money could be better spent on something else. But –FITS has survived, at least until what was always envisaged to be a review date of 2013. It always was important for industry development and consumer confidence that there was some certainty ahead: and now there (probably) is – except for one thing. FITS is proving too successful.
In its original incarnation, FITS would have been demand led. But now there is, effectively, a cap in the amount of money that can be spent on it: enough certainly to get to the Review period with a healthy growth in the industry; but not an exponential funding of whatever people apply to install. And one development of the scheme– known as ‘field solar’ ( free-standing larger arrays of PV not on roofs but qualifying for FITS towards the top end of the agreed maximum 5 megawatt limit of the scheme) is causing worry. Each ‘field solar’ development probably accounts for about 1500 ‘domestic’ solar roofs – and might well eat up the lion’s share of the FITS ‘cap’ now notionally in place. Undoubtedly we will need more ‘field solar’ in the future, but right now, the threat hangs over solar PV development that, if it takes off too quickly – or if field solar predominates to too great an extent, well, the plug may be pulled.
So the dilemma for the PV industry, and for those who want to see solar develop as it should in the UK is: how do you rein back this sudden success story so that everyone can get to the review date in good order? For an industry long starved of resources and seen as the preserve of the enthusiast it’s a new and novel challenge – but one that, in our present cash-strapped times, will need to be addressed.