UK: CCC's "blinkered" PV view criticized

The independent body that advises the government on setting and meeting carbon targets looked at the potentials provided by photovoltaic technology and other options, but was accused by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) of doing solar power a "great disservice in the report".

Although it has recommended a 15-fold increase in renewable energy by 2030, the ‘Renewable Energy Review‘, commissioned by the Coalition Government last year, was reserved in its estimations for photovoltaics, brought about largely by concerns over pricing.

"An appropriate strategy for the UK would be to monitor closely the results of solar PV support in other countries, and to buy in this technology at a later stage depending on cost reductions achieved," it read. "Given the current high costs, it is appropriate that solar PV, and microgeneration more generally, makes only a very limited contribution to achieving the UK’s 2020 renewable energy target."

The projected price of photovoltaic technology led the report to suggest that new nuclear, onshore wind and offshore wind are likely to play a "major role" in the UK’s decarbonization strategy, whereas for photovoltaics the outlook was "limited".

This brought about strong response from the REA, which issued a statement within hours of the document’s release, saying that while they agreed with the main thrust of the CCC’s review, they thought a broader perspective was required.

"In its report on renewables, published today, the CCC has fallen into the trap of comparing the cost of solar power with current wholesale electricity prices, rather than retail prices which are more than twice the cost," the statement read. "In addition the costs of solar power in the report have also been significantly overestimated."

It continued: "Whilst the report acknowledges the huge solar resource in the UK, this oversight means that the Committee has not recognised the significant role that solar can play in the short and medium term, and puts the UK out of step with other major EU countries."

The price of photovoltaics in 2030 with a 10 percent discount rate was forecast by the report to be at most 25 pence per kilowatt hour, making it second only to wave energy and 250 percent above the prediction for nuclear power.

This costing will dissuade investment, according to the report, unless figures can drop through "large reductions" to around the 11 pence per kilowatt hour mark making it comparable to offshore wind.

Photovoltaics adviser Ray Noble said that the "CCC have overestimated even current solar prices, yet alone future prices. They must at least base their analysis on the right pricing."

Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, went on to say that the way household photovoltaic units cut out the costs of networks, supplier profits and other additional costs was largely ignored by the report and provides a critical point of difference for the technology that the report ignored.

"It is surprising that a body such as the Committee on Climate Change doesn’t get the basic economics of decentralised renewables," he said. "In addition CCC have also missed the huge potential for increased competition in our electricity sector because solar enables millions of people to have a stake in electricity generation, rather than a handful of companies. Solar will be competitive much earlier than they estimate."

The report suggests that it will take until 2030 for photovoltaics to be financially viable in the UK, but this is not comparing like with like, according to the REA. In Europe, the cost of photovoltaics is expected to equal retail prices before the end of the decade, which would be at odds with the predictions made in the report and lead to a more favored future for the industry.

"The committee takes a bizarrely blinkered view," Johns said.

Photovoltaics potential

Despite this, the REA did say that it concurs with having an immediate and firm commitment to renewable energy that the report suggested.

The report said that there is significant potential for photovoltaics generation in the UK (around 140 TWh/year based on the resource potential from south-facing roofs and facades). The resource for photovoltaics was also described as "abundant", although the pace and scale of development will be determined outside the UK.

"To reach the level of solar PV deployment set out in DECC’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan (2.7 GW by 2020), the UK will need to develop a robust supply chain," it said.

Analysis from Pöyry Management Consulting that is used in the report suggests that, as long as there is sufficient labor to install new panels, deployment of 2.2 gigawatts per year on average through the 2020s would be feasible.

It also mentioned importing solar power produced in Europe and possibly North Africa, using photovoltaics or concentrated solar power (CSP).

"In the longer term, imported solar power could make a significant contribution to meeting electricity demand in the UK to the extent this is not problematic from a security of supply perspective," it said.

The report concludes by saying that renewables could generate around 30 percent (460TWh) of the UK’s energy – or up to 45 percent (680TWh) if costs fall – by 2030. A 30 percent rise indicates a 15-fold increase on current levels.