Solar: nothing to hide, everything to offer

kHtK2Sc8_400x400  This blog is by Leonie Greene, Head of External Affairs, STA

Reading some of the coverage of the Public Accounts Committee report on Government’s funding of clean energy schemes you’d be forgiven for thinking backing solar was costing households a lot of money. It isn’t.

That is why we welcome all the transparency we can get. The National Audit Office showed solar was responsible for just 6% of the budget overspend on clean power, but it had been publicly blamed and bore the brunt of sudden cuts. Solar adds around £10 to people’s energy bills – a fraction of the £110 figure dominating today’s coverage. At the STA we have always been clear about the cost and benefits of supporting solar, producing carefully costed plans to get the industry away from public support entirely.

And away from public support is where the industry wants to be. As the PAC report makes clear, the Government’s management of the support schemes for renewables leaves a lot to be desired; it isn’t called the ‘solarcoaster’ for nothing. The casualties have been even solid companies and thousands of skilled and committed workers. As well as trust and confidence.

To be fair, monitoring the cost of this dynamic technology is challenging and a world away from the inertia of the old energy system (albeit a prisoner to wildly fluctuating fossil prices). Nobody, not even the solar industry, anticipated the staggering price drop in solar back when the FIT scheme started. Governments around the world were caught out by this, not only the UK Government. It is time to move on.

The mistake that matters now was to wrongly blame solar for the recent budget overspend and whip the rug away just that little bit too early. The result has been a serious collapse in the UK solar market – and so tragically close to needing no support at all. It isn’t only the industry that suffers from extreme policy changes; it is the public too, who has invested in this industry for future national prosperity and who wants to know if there is a problem the solar company who installed their solar will still be in business.

So solar has nothing to hide when it comes to costs. It is the most popular energy generation technology in the UK and among the cheapest clean technologies today. Given a stable market today it can shortly be the cheapest of all power, as Government’s own analysis shows.

Not only can solar save money compared to other technologies, it sits at the heart of a smart, flexible system which has the potential to save consumers £billions. Solar is indeed a disruptive technology, but it is also uniquely harmonising; able to unify storage, electric transport and clean generation around genuinely empowered consumers. Globally the value of the solar market over coming decades is estimated in £trillions – economic opportunities don’t come bigger or more worthwhile, given the climate threat.

The truth is, if we want a truly competitive and modern economy the UK cannot afford to side line solar, nor to frustrate the thousands of organisations who want to invest in it (business rates anyone?). This proven and extraordinary technology will prevail because it has far too much to offer. The more transparent Government’s spending figures are, the clearer that will be.