Net metering and private PPAs at heart of UK solar future, says former minister

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Former UK energy minister Lord Barker has said solar’s future lies in a combination of private wire PPAs and a government-backed net metering scheme.

Barker was speaking at the UK Renewable Energy Association’s ‘Renewable Futures’ event alongside ex-energy secretary Ed Davey, where the two debated recent clean energy policy decisions and this week’s government spending review, which sets out commitments for the rest of this parliament.

While Davey said that the renewables industry would have to adapt to the “hard new reality” under a Conservative government, Barker said that there was a need to see energy policy “in the context of the entire economy”.

Support for projects over 1MW has closed early with solar indefinitely excluded from the replacement scheme. The feed-in tariff (FiT) for rooftop installs faces a reduction of up to 87% with the results of a government consultation expected soon.

Barker added his belief that the Department of Energy and Climate Change had historically struggled to “get its head around” solar and that once it did, the department wanted to “shut it down”. He also said that the government’s solar policy was “hopeless [and] utterly useless” when he first joined DECC after the Tories formed a coalition government with the Lib Dems in 2010.

However Barker was more optimistic on the future of the solar industry. He said submissions to DECC’s FiT consultation, in particular that of developer Lightsource – who Barker is now advising – had proven that there was a desire to see government subsidies shifted away from large-scale ground-mounted solar to rooftop installations.

He forecasted that in the absence of subsidies, large-scale solar developers would now seek to build out solar parks on the back of signing direct wire power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utilities and other companies.

Barker also said he would urge current secretary of state Amber Rudd to look into establishing a net metering scheme “further down the line”, particularly when domestic storage technologies become more widespread.

“There is a tipping point coming, and we need to realise it,” Barker said.

Net metering – an incentive mechanism that credits households for solar energy exported to the grid – has become increasingly popular in some US states where solar PV has been strongly adopted. The addition of domestic storage, as well as half-hourly settlements and time-of-use tariffs Rudd has previously supported, would feasibly provide the necessary capabilities for the government to introduce a similar incentive scheme.

The mechanism would effectively support solar deployment without actively subsidising it, a message which Barker said would be welcomed by both government and industry. “The good news is we don’t need the government, but [we] do need a thriving environment,” he added.

This story originally appeared on PV Tech's UK sister site Solar Power Portal

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