UK solar industry remains ‘in limbo’

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As the climate change talks open in Copenhagen, the renewable energy manufacturers’ frustration mounts, since the UK Low Carbon Building Programme Phase 2 has now closed for solar applications and the feed-in tariff announcement is delayed. These setbacks are expected to make a large impact on the UK’s renewable plans, as those in the industry are left at a loose end, reports the Financial Times.

The UK government’s flagship grant scheme for solar power ran out of funds less than halfway through the 2009 financial year. The UK PV Association says that this leaves the companies making and installing solar panels, which it represents, in ‘limbo’.

The scheme was originally granted £50m, 18m of which was set aside for hospitals, schools and other public sector buildings in order to install PV panels on their roofs. However this has now been closed down “due to unprecedented demand”.

The clean energy cashback scheme, which outlines the UK FiT rate, is also on standby. The industry had expected the government’s decision on this scheme by December 2009, however as discussions continue to take place between the UK energy department and the Treasury, it is unknown when these details will be revealed. “This leaves installation companies in limbo land, unable to plan their businesses and unsure of what advice to give customers,” said the UK PV Association.

However, a spokeswoman for DECC said the FiT plans were still on track to begin April 2010. “It’s very encouraging that there’s been an unprecedented demand for this technology but we have to be fair to all renewable technologies,” she said.

Sharp UK employs 600 staff at its PV manufacturing plant in Wrexham, Wales. The company’s general manager of solar, Andrew Lee said that these delays mean that the industry will have to endure another “unnecessary hiatus in support”.

“The government’s decision to close the Low Carbon Building Programme Phase 2 is one that threatens to kill the UKs PV industry. At a time when the UK should be building-up interest and support ahead of the introduction of a UK Feed in Tariff next year, the decision to end the LCBP grant procedure because of too much demand is just another unnecessary hiatus in support. The government should see this popularity as a clear sign of public support for the technology.

As the largest manufacture of PV panels in UK, we know that this technology has the potential to unlock thousands of green jobs in the UK. However, PV continues to be overlooked as the government conducts a stop start approach to adopting renewable energy. While we understand that PV technology is part of a wider renewable mix – if every building in the UK had a solar panel on its roof, there would be no need for any other energy source.”

Ray Noble from the Renewable Energy Association said, “Our members face ongoing uncertainties and yet another round of stop-start support.”

While Phase Two and the FiT schemes are held back, Phase One, which applies to households, remains open.

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