UK launches Europe’s first dedicated solar strategy

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The UK has become the first European government to publish a dedicated solar PV strategy.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published the long-awaited Solar Strategy today, designed to enact a “further step change in deployment” for solar in the UK.

The strategy places particular emphasis on encouraging the deployment of rooftop solar, especially the underperforming commercial-scale sector. In addition, the strategy confirms that the government is targeting one million solar homes by 2015. There was potentially ominous news for the UK’s booming ground-mount sector however. The UK is set to overtake Germany for the first quarter of 2014 as the largest European market for PV deployment.

Launching the Solar Strategy, energy minister Greg Barker said: “We have managed to put ourselves among the world leaders on solar and this strategy will help us stay there. There is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy.

“Solar not only benefits the environment, it has the potential to create thousands of jobs across the region and deliver the clean and reliable energy supplies that the country needs at the lowest possible cost to consumers.”

Chief executive for the UK's Solar Trade Association, Paul Barwell, praised the government’s move, he said: “Solar has not only been recognised by DECC as a key UK technology, but now has its own dedicated strategy – the first in Europe. Minister Greg Barker has championed solar power specifically because he knows it has the greatest potential to empower millions of people across the UK with low-cost green energy. Solar will also provide thousands of good quality local jobs.”

However, the UK ground-mount solar sector could face a fresh challenge following the strategy. In the document DECC admits that the ground-mount pipeline had been “much stronger than anticipated in government modelling” and that the level of take up “has the potential to affect the financial incentives budget under the levy control framework”. DECC states that it is concerned that, left “uncorrected”, large-scale solar could “erode the approval rating of the sector overall”.     

The strategy also fails to identify any specific targets for solar deployment, using the same figures published in the electricity market reform document which states that 10-12GW of PV could be deployed by 2020. However, the strategy does confirm the minister’s oft-stated ambition of 20GW by 2020, albeit with the caveat “the ability to achieve such a high level of deployment will be predicated by a number of factors. These include available budget within the levy control framework”.

But the solar industry has welcomed the new commitments under the strategy to help stimulate uptake in the commercial sector. Most notably, DECC has confirmed that it is working on allowing permitted development rights for roof-mounted solar up to 1MW as well as working with Ofgem to simplify the ROO-FiT application process. The department has also hinted that it is “considering changes to the financial support available to the sector to encourage further deployment”.

Talking to PV Tech, Ray Noble, co-chair of the strategy commented: “The hard work has now been done in pulling together all of the facts, ensuring that all understand the issues, identifying barriers to future growth, and ensuring that the benefits of solar are fully understood. The Solar Strategy should provide the necessary comfort to all types of potential customers that solar in the UK makes total sense.

“We still have work to do in developing solutions to some of the barriers but working with government these will be sorted during 2014.

Noble concluded: “The message to the solar industry is full speed ahead, and the message to the minister is we will achieve your ambition of 20GW.”

The full Solar Strategy document can be found here.

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