Around the world, 2016 was a good year for solar energy. Advances in solar cell technology brought efficiency improvements and there were real advances in developing storage technologies, making solar a 24-hour energy source!
Solar panels at New Mills School
Unfortunately, the UK government decided to turn its back on what had been a thriving new industry in our country. Feed-in tariffs paid to owners of solar installations who put energy into the grid were slashed dramatically and suddenly. The original plan was to cut the tariff by 85% but following public opposition, the tariff was finally cut by 64%. Even if a reduction in the tariff can be expected as costs of installation fall, to cut so drastically and quickly was disastrous for confidence of investors and potential customers. Installations have fallen dramatically.
Extending the use of renewables is vital to our chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change and of all the renewable technologies, solar is the one where communities and individuals feel they can play a part. So, the spread of small scale community owned installations is a move away from dependence on the big energy companies to establishing a more democratic control over a resource we all need.
In general we have little or no say in how energy is generated or what it costs us in terms of money and of our present and future health. We seem to be at the mercy of decisions and events that are completely beyond our control. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Germany, a third of all energy is generated from renewable sources and more than half of all renewable energy is owned by community groups. We're a long way from that in the UK but things have started to change in recent years. Now the brakes may have been put on.
And it looks like getting worse.
New business rates due to come into force in April this year will raise the rate due on roof-top solar installations on non-domestic premises by between 600% and 800%. This affects non-domestic installations that are mainly generating for their own use - so not energy suppliers. What's more installations on buildings such as hospitals and local authority schools, which were previously exempt, will now be liable to pay - but not private schools or academies, they are charities! Together with the cuts in feed-in tariffs, this would make many of these installations very risky - they may cost more than the income they bring in.
New Mills School is one of the schools that participated in the Solar Schools project organised by the charity 10:10. Solar panels were installed in September. Will this now be at risk? The Solar Schools was a fantastic initiative. It involved communities in fundraising and planning, giving ordinary people confidence that they can contribute to the fight against climate change. And the solar panels are a great resource for seeing science in action.
We need to stop this before the tax comes in.
In October, Caroline Lucas tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to reverse this increase and provide support for a transition to a low-carbon economy. It has received cross-party support, though our MP hasn't signed. We wrote to him (firstname.lastname@example.org) but never received a reply.You might have better luck. Our letter is here.
Many organisations and individuals have signed a letter to the Chancellor calling on him to stop this madness. Why not write to him (email@example.com).