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Solar PV: A tale of two futures

Solar PV installation has been on a rollercoaster ride since the introduction of feed-in tariffs (FiTs) in 2010, due to changing government policy and rules.

If the government implements the proposals made in its recent consultation on the future of FiTs, that ride is likely to come to a juddering halt.

Solar PV is important not just for what it is – a decentralised source of zero-carbon electricity – but of what it represents for the future.

In an ideal world

That future is a non-polluting energy supply, backed up by the next generation of super-batteries, uncoupling the UK economy from fossil fuels, and increasingly powering our homes, businesses and vehicles. 

“[The government] risks turning solar PV into an experience that could undermine the future of micro-renewables”

It sounds impressive, and FiTs were designed to give solar PV the opportunity to realise some of that promise.

There’s an old joke about viable energy from nuclear fusion technology, which is that it’s only 30 years away, and always will be…

Yet before the latest announcements, solar PV was set to reach UK grid parity within five years, meaning that the industry could then stand on its own two feet, without any government subsidy.

Solar PV is no pipe dream.

Bubble burst

But the government is proposing to put that future in serious doubt by withdrawing the bulk of solar PV FiTs, as of January.

In doing so, it has been warned by numerous solar players that over 20,000 jobs could go.

It also risks turning solar PV into the sort of experience that could undermine the future of micro-renewables in general, as consumers, investors and contractors conclude that the political and financial uncertainty surrounding nascent renewable energy sources is just too great.

“If FITs are effectively culled this winter, that vision of the future could be set back by years, or even decades”

The next few months are likely to be very challenging for solar PV.

We hope it will not be worse than that, because the sector is on the cusp of new and improved battery technology that could store prodigious solar energy and deliver clean electrical power on demand, and not just when nature’s offsite fusion reactor is shining.

Unfortunately, if FITs are effectively culled this winter, that vision of the future could be set back by years, or even decades. 

Paul Reeve is director of business services at the Electrical Contractors’ Association

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