Solar still shining
The future for domestic solar power looks bright despite recent government attacks, says Simon Birch.
It was a decision that UK climate change campaigners could scarcely believe.
Just days after agreeing to move swiftly to a low-carbon energy future at the climate change conference in Paris last year, the UK government announced that it was going to slash subsidies to householders installing rooftop solar panels by a whopping 65%.
Thanks to the help of these subsidies, the growth of solar power has been one of the standout success stories for the UK’s renewable energy sector. However, campaigners feared that the government’s unprecedented attack on the solar industry would stop this growth in its tracks.
So what’s been the impact of the cutting of these subsidies?
Well, as widely expected, the news isn’t good.
Figures released in April showed that the amount of household solar power capacity installed in the previous two months plummeted by 75%, much to the dismay of campaigners such as Richard Dyer, renewable energy campaigner at Friends Of the Earth.
“The Government’s bizarre attacks on renewable energy have hit the sector hard and fly in the face of the Paris commitment to limit the rise in the global temperature to below 2 degrees,” says Dyer.
Despite this, he remains defiantly upbeat about solar’s future:
“There is an unstoppable global momentum for renewable energy and the solar revolution is going to happen regardless of what is just a temporary blip here in the UK.”
The solar industry itself is similarly confident that solar has a sun-filled future and refuses to accept that the cut in subsidies signals the end of the industry.
“There has been a drop-off in the installation of solar panels on homes, but once the market settles down after the hugely disruptive effect of the cuts of 2015, we’re relatively optimistic that the market will pick up again,” says Sonya Dunlop from the Solar Trade Association.
“Under the right circumstances it’s still possible to get relatively good financial returns on your solar panels, for example if you have a south-facing roof,” says Dunlop.
“And for anyone who is replacing their roof, it’s a no-brainer to be replacing with solar,” adds Dunlop pointing out that a significant part of the installation costs for solar panels is the scaffolding.
This confidence in solar’s future received a welcome boost this April with the news that alongside its tea-lights and Swedish meatballs, Ikea is to start selling solar panels in a bid to move solar into the mainstream.
“Despite the challenging UK renewable energy policy situation, we want to turn solar into an essential part of any home and believe our new ‘Solar Shops’ will be a major milestone in making this happen,” says Joanna Yarrow, Ikea’s UK sustainability boss.
By teaming up with Solar Century, one of the UK’s pioneering solar power companies who will install the panels, the flat-pack specialists wants to roll out solar power across the country.
“At Ikea we believe that renewable energy is undoubtedly the power of the future,” says Yarrow.
“We know our customers want to live more sustainably, so together with Solar Century we are making solar panels as attractive and affordable as possible.”
And the future for solar looks even more promising thanks to the launch earlier this year of the Powerwall, the latest piece of cutting-edge technology unveiled by the founder of the revelutionary Tesla electric car, Elon Musk.
Solar needs sun
Despite the plummeting cost of solar power systems, solar’s major limitation is simply that it doesn’t work when the sun isn’t shining.
In effect a giant battery which sits on the wall in your home, the Powerwall is designed to provide this ‘missing link’ and store surplus solar energy not used at the time it’s generated and then use this energy later on when the sun isn’t shining.
It’s the Powerwall’s potential as a possible solution to the problem of solar generated electricity that’s now causing such a buzz around the world and here in the UK.
“Domestic storage alongside solar could be a cornerstone of our smart energy future, enabling us to get the most out of clean, home-grown energy,” says David Pickup, business analyst at the Solar Trade Association.
“We’re starting to see products such as the Powerwall being installed in the UK and it’s a fantastic sign of things to come.”
Read more in our guide to solar PV >