The future of solar power

Many met this policy decision with contempt, angry that government was not only applying the brakes to foreign investment opportunists, but also to community-backed schemes including planned installations on schools, churches, hospitals and council buildings. Industry associations, including the Renewable Energy Association (REA), Solar Trade Association (STA) and groups such as Friends of the Earth, began campaigning against the decision. Industry came together to try and stop the review in its tracks and to educate government on why it was such a bad idea to cut the renewable industry in the UK down in its prime.

Sadly, the campaigning did not get through and it was revealed that the cuts would go ahead as planned. This news caused half the industry to pick itself up and plough ahead with plans before the full effect of the review took hold, while others decided the UK’s solar market was a lost cause, and walked away. Just one month later, the first large-scale plant was installed, closely followed by more than 20 others.

The successful projects combined total over 75MW, which will soon be added to Ofgem’s latest total market figure of 156MW (which doesn’t include the large-scale parks). At present, 146MW of Ofgem’s total can be attributed to residential installations, placing the UK on a path to reach up to 300MW of installations by the end of the year.

Adding to this positivity, the Renewables Obligation (RO) Banding review is soon expected to be published and, among others, the STA is hoping it can be used instead of the Feed-in Tariff to fill the gap and secure major UK solar opportunities. The RO Banding Review will set out the support levels that the coalition government plans to offer to different renewable power technologies under the 2013 Renewables Obligation Order. Currently, solar is given two Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) of support, which is insufficient. However, with the FiT scheme now only viable below 50kW, sufficient support under the RO is crucial if solar ambitions are to increase under the coalition government.

Recent studies suggest, given exceptional solar module price reductions, larger-scale projects require a short period of extra RO support between three to four ROCs to secure major UK manufacturing opportunities and ensure the technology can thrive on two ROCs per megawatt hour by the end of this parliament. This really does represent the last chance for the coalition government to support solar this parliament.