Climate Minister: 'Solar is coming of age'


Greg Barker urges industry to beef up marketing efforts to get the message out

Climate Change Minister Greg Barker has predicted the coming years will see a surge in solar installations as the cost of the technology continues to fall and businesses and households realise solar panels offer an effective means of reducing energy bills and carbon emissions.

But he warned the technology will only realise its full potential if the industry and government step up efforts to “get the message out there that solar is now on a firm footing to build deployment and a ‘go-to’ solution for energy generation”.

Speaking at the official launch of BRE’s new National Solar Centre, Barker acknowledged the sector had faced a turbulent 18 months as a result of the government’s controversial reforms to feed-in tariffs (FiT) and admitted the changes had “difficult consequences” – the government is still facing legal action over its handling of the cuts to the incentives with a handful of solar firms seeking damages.

However, he insisted the government had “no choice” but to reform a scheme that was on track to significantly exceed its budget and had now delivered a stable policy framework that could “bring about a solar energy revolution in the UK”.

“Despite all the adverse publicity these changes generated, one fact remains true – solar is still a great deal,” he told an audience of solar industry executives. “There’s been much disinformation out there on how solar is now just uneconomic and unaffordable.

“The opposite is true. Unit costs have fallen dramatically. And it’s worth underlining – the rates of return under the new bands actually remain broadly similar to those when the FiTs scheme was first launched in 2010. Together, we need to get that extremely positive message out to the wider public.”

Barker also predicted that with 1.8GW of solar capacity now installed and the technology included in the government’s Renewables Roadmap for the first time it has the potential to deliver over 20GW of capacity by 2020.

“Thanks to dramatically falling costs, costs that will… and must, fall further, solar PV will play a critical role in helping the UK meet its vital renewable energy targets,” he said. “And we in the coalition government are absolutely committed to working with you to make that happen… We have the ability – and more importantly, the ambition – to see a 10-fold increase in solar power by 2020.”

He added that there were signs the market was picking up after a slow second half of 2012, with 1,500 installations totalling 5MW of capacity installed last week.

But he admitted that the industry had “a long way to go” to meet the 20GW target and as a result would have to embrace innovative new technologies, such as those expected to be developed at the National Solar Centre, at the same time as stepping up efforts to promote the technology.

“The sector needs real champions; champions with the vision, the ambition and the resources to lead the charge on the next stage of the solar power revolution,” he said.

Barker also highlighted the potential for solar companies to take advantage of the government’s Green Deal energy efficiency scheme, which will launch on January 28th and offers both households and businesses the opportunity to install energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at no upfront cost.