Is the U.K.’s solar market heating up? You bet your Union, Jack. At least, for now.
Strong public support for solar is lighting up Britain. Even its conservative MPs are on board, despite the fact that Britain’s increasingly right-wing government scrapped all renewable obligation support for solar farms over 5 megawatts on April 1, according to the U.K.’s Solar Power Portal. The Portal also noted that the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has since 2012 routinely and comprehensively tracked public opinion on solar, and nearly always found that about 80 percent of its constituents are in favor of it. “The latest wave shows that 81% of Brits support the rollout of solar,” it added.
You can add those obvious numbers to a new report from Colorado’s IHS Inc., which spotted an “unprecedented solar boom” in the U.K., thanks to 110 PV projects with a combined capacity of 1.6 gigawatts that were completed in the first quarter of 2015 alone. Sure, they were hurriedly built before the government’s aforementioned renewable obligation support program expired; “in fact, some of these projects received their permits as late as early February of this year,” explained IHS senior analyst Josefin Berg.
But despite the government’s purported disdain for renewable energy, Berg does not expect the solar market in Britain to cool off, and chances are that overwhelming public support won’t let it. Thanks to its desperate flurry, the U.K. installed more solar capacity than any other European nation last year.
But that achievement is being clumsily deflated by dissension within David Cameron’s conservative government, which is fresh off an electoral upset of Labour. Documents recently obtained by the Solar Trade Association have found that Britain’s 14 distribution network operators, which operate as regional monopolies, have projected that only 6.6 gigawatts of solar capacity will be added to the grid by 2023 — despite the fact that the nation already boasts more capacity than that now. “The future evolution of the network is clouded by uncertainty and misinformed by astonishing underestimates in the rate of renewables deployment,” STA’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene explained. Add to that ludicrous claims from Britain’s newly reinstated environment secretary Elizabeth Truss that solar farms negatively impact agriculture, and you have a nation dumbly bumbling its way to a renewable energy takeover.
But politics, like energy, is a long game, and there is simply no way that Britain can withstand the mounting onslaught of popular opinion on solar power. After all, it is the people who put the government in power, and it is the people who will take them out, once they realize that the government is servicing last century’s obsolete energy infrastructure at the expense of this century’s newer, cleaner alternatives, as climate change’s destabilizing sea rise begins to swallow the U.K.’s legendary coastlines. Even Truss has admitted that solar has an obvious home on British rooftops, if not its agricultural spaces — which as much of a no-brainer as Greene’s explanation that Truss’ witless hypothesis is based more on politics than evidence.
In the final analysis, it is just a matter of time before the U.K. comes to lasting terms with globally warmed reality. “I want to unleash a new solar revolution,” claimed Britain’s new energy secretary Amber Rudd, who was hand-picked by Cameron himself. She might want to tell that to the rest of Cameron’s government.
U.K. solar neighborhood photo CC-licensed by Tom Chance on Wikimedia.