Recent cuts in solar subsidies have been described by industry insiders as ‘too far, too fast’, and are predicted to lead to a loss of over half of the 35,000 UK jobs in the solar industry.
The decision to reduce subsidies has come at a time when Britain is generating record levels of solar energy, with solar recently overtaking coal in the amount of power generated in the UK. Experts from the Solar Trade Association (STA), the body which represents the Solar industry, believe that up to 18,000 jobs have been lost in the last year.
Jonathan Selwyn, Chairman of the STA, said that solar power companies had been “very hard hit,” and many are now altering their business plans, or shifting their focus to growing markets abroad. Criticising the government for its attempts to support steel making at Port Talbot, but not acting to save jobs in the solar sector, Mr Selwyn said, “this must be the only industrial sector where the Government is congratulating itself for causing thousands of job losses.”
The Government said it has a duty to balance job creation with the cost of household bills. A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said, “our priority is to keep energy bills as low as possible for families and businesses, whilst supporting low-carbon technologies that represent value for money. The cost of solar has steadily declined over the last ten years and it is right that as this comes down so should the consumer-funded support.”
Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London, said it was unclear yet whether the solar sector would achieve lower growth or simply fall away completely. He added “Solar has benefitted from extraordinarily generous subsidies and no one expected to see such incredibly growth rates. It has been quite seismic for a country that was getting a smidgeon of power from renewables only a few years ago. But the cuts have been dramatic and quick.”
New research by analysts at Carbon Brief has shown that solar panels generated more electricity than coal in May. This has been accompanied by a steady increase in the UK’s share of energy generated by renewables. In 2015 it reached 24.7 per cent of the UK’s total; this is up from 19.1 per cent in 2014.
Across Europe renewables are generating high levels of power. For four days in May, Portugal met the entire country’s energy needs from renewables. The greater global amount of renewables is one of the reasons why BP claims that in 2015 global levels of CO2 did not grow; this is the first time in ten years that global CO2 emissions have not increased.
In recent years Britain has installed up to 10GWs of solar power – enough to power 3 million homes, or to produce 65 per cent of the energy promised from the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station. Last month solar power generated 1,336 gigawatt hours (GWH) of energy compared with 893 GWH from coal. This was helped by the fact that older coal fired power stations, such as Ferrybridge in Yorkshire and Longannet in Scotland, have been closed. Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, has promised to close down all coal fired power stations by 2025.