Small solar must be maintained to meet Solar Strategy goals
Posted by James Page on 24 April 2014 at 11:32 am
20GW of solar generated electricity was always going to be an ambitious target, but at least the new Solar Strategy (published earlier this month) keeps it alive.
Like any long term investment solar will continue to need government support (the writing of the document was outsourced to an industry group, the Conservatives preferring a hands off approach). The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said it wants to move towards 'technology neutrality' in energy production. This would be fine if generation methods were the same in other respects.
However, a technology with a high upfront cost and low running costs will have a long payback time but could in the long run produce cheaper electricity - and be a better choice for society for other reasons. The value of money in the distant future (which defines discount rates, and in turn the viability of a project) will always be less to a business than to society.
What's needed is simple and cheap loans - not the expensive and complex system the Green Deal has become. DECC is also wrong to believe that solar prices have much further to fall in the near term. Installation is already competitive and solar panel factories are closing through over capacity. Electricity prices, however, will rise rapidly (especially at peak usage times, once smart meters enable timed tariffs.) But we need to be installing now as the IPCC made crystal clear last week.
The Strategy contains other 'directions of travel'. There is a strong hint that the weight of subsidies will shift from solar farms to commercial building systems. It is also said that businesses should be allowed to take their panels with them if they relocate. I can't imagine it ever being worthwhile to do this but if it helps remove a barrier then fine. More useful would be a simplification of the regulations around exporting electricity.
Perhaps the most welcome target is that 1GW of panels is destined for public sector roofs, although why private money is needed for this I'm not sure. Many local authorities have more than enough cash, accumulated from recent spending cuts. At the drop of a hat West London boroughs decided to lend £15 million each for an incinerator to be built (near Bristol!). Surely a far more risky investment than one based on sunlight.
But most panels are installed on houses so it is even more important that 'small solar' is maintained if overall growth is to accelerate. As an installer it sometimes feels that the hurdles in the domestic sector are ever rising, as regulations about measuring shading are enforced, even where there is none to be measured. But most of all, government should be promoting solar as the good long term investment that it is.
About the author: James Page is a chartered engineer and is head of engineering at Joju Solar. All views expressed are his own. He stores solar energy under the kitchen floor.
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