13 May 2015

Dark clouds on horizon for renewable energy, despite new solar high

During the sunniest part of today 15 per cent of our electricity needs were being met by solar power alone, according to industry estimates, Channel 4 News can reveal.

It’s the most electricity we’ve ever generated from solar, and reveals just how many new panels have been installed on rooftops and in fields across Britain in the last two years.


But the boom in solar is predicted to end sharply after changes to the subsidy scheme for the technology came into force at the end of April.

Now all but a few of the largest-scale solar farms – the kind you see filling farmer’s fields – have lost subsidy support.

And despite the appointment of green-leaning Amber Rudd as energy secretary, there is uncertainty about how much support there might be for smaller scale solar too.

Compared to other power sources like natural gas, solar is expensive.

However industry body the Solar Trade Association, said given the right support now, the cost of rooftop systems could come down enough by 2020 for it to be profitable for installers without a subsidy.

It’s not just solar that has been booming.

According to government figures renewable electricity generation overall broke all previous records last year reaching 22 per cent of electricity production for the first time.

At times last winter more electricity was coming from renewables and nuclear than was being produced from burning coal.

Read more: Balcombe: renewable energy powers community cohesion

During the dark days of winter nearly all of that electricity was coming from wind turbines.

However, in their pre-election manifesto the Conservatives threatened to end support for onshore wind power, which makes up a big part of that total.

“We urge the new administration to confirm the importance of onshore wind as an essential part of our electricity mix,” said Maria McCaffery, chief executive of Renewable UK the wind industry trade body.

If the subsidy scheme were maintained, she added, “onshore wind could be the cheapest of all power sources by 2020.”


7 reader comments

  1. Scottish Scientist says:

    Allow me to shine some rays of sunshine and hope for renewable energy.

    Scotland Electricity Generation – my plan for 2020

    Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power

    World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?

    Off-Shore Electricity from Wind, Solar and Hydrogen Power

    Scottish Scientist
    Independent Scientific Adviser for Scotland

  2. CWH says:

    When discussing subsidies for renewables why not include the subsidies for the new nuclear power stations, the minimum guaranteed strike price and, above all, the decommissioning costs for nuclear power stations which will be borne by the taxpayer. Nuclear costs should also include cleaning up Sellafield which will cost something like £80 billion – and is running behind schedule.

    Once all of that is taken into account do renewable costs, including subsidies, look so bad?

  3. Blaise says:

    “Offshore wind one of the most expensive electricity technologies” – WHAT?! Read the EU report on levelised costs of energy here: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/ECOFYS%202014%20Subsidies%20and%20costs%20of%20EU%20energy_11_Nov.pdf and the UK governments own report on Energy Subsidies which found that fossil fuels are getting more than renewables: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmenvaud/61/61.pdf

  4. anon says:

    wouldn’t a perfect market fix all this, if certain fuels pollute then their cost can be massively increased by appropriate litigation and compensation for those affected, “where there is a blame there is a claim” sort of thing but directed in a more useful direction than may be currently the case. This would make less harmful technologies more attractive financially to those needed to develop and build them, so perhaps the Government doesn’t need to be involved? just a thought

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      It’s an attractive idea. And positive too.
      Unfortunately, the Law of Tort does not extend to unquantifiable and/or unlimited numbers of claims such as indirect damage from CO2 emissions.
      For example, how would you value your future loss if sea levels rise in the future because of, say, Chinese emissions last year?
      Regretfully m’learned friends may not have any remedy.

  5. Ahmed Sofyan says:

    Interesting posts. Solar energy, is the only source of consistent energy and infinite. Utilization requires a development that is very accurate. although this time the application for the energy source has been successfully carried out, but the budget required is not cheap. very interesting to see growth ahead, especially in the face of the possibility of fossil energy crisis. thanks for the share.

  6. Andrew Heath says:

    Practical Action are facilitating a forum looking at the critical role technology has to play in combating poverty in the developing world at the University of Edinburgh in March this year. The forum will be looking at the future of development in the wake of COP21 and through the concept of Technology Justice, the details of both technology justice and the forum are outlined here: http://practicalaction.org/technology-justice

    The forum is free and invite only and the potential attendees have been selected according to their knowledge of particular issues around development, the environment, technology, gender, innovation and access to knowledge. We would be delighted if you could attend to help shape the way in which development takes place in future.

    We are holding similar forums in the countries in which we work. The results will be used to gain momentum for a movement for technology justice to run totally separately from our organisation, through which we hope to change the way in which technological development takes place.

    If you would like to attend please contact us via my email.

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