Brighter future? Maybe not for UK solar

There are ominous signs for UK solar in the Roadmap to a Brighter Future report published yesterday by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

UK energy and climate change minister Greg Barker presented the report – part of a two-stage strategy to plan the future of solar in the country – at the opening of the Solar Energy UK 2013 conference at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

In the document, DECC announces its intent to perform "further analysis of the levels of cost reduction required to deliver different levels of solar PV deployment over the next decade, and assess whether these are feasible," without adding what action will be taken if it decides such cost reductions are unfeasible.

And one of the four ‘principles’ of the roadmap casts doubt on the efficacy of solar in reducing the global carbon footprint by citing two studies claiming the true lifetime carbon emissions associated with solar – from the mining of silicon to the final generation of power – are much higher than those associated with onshore and offshore wind.

Taken together, the two critical aspects of the report could signal a desire to row back on the UK’s stated target of installing 20 GW of solar PV by 2020, with the National Grid having already controversially announced the addition of more than 10 GW of new solar will make managing the grid ‘significantly more challenging’.

The 38-page report, which foreshadows the UK’s first Solar PV Strategy, expected in the spring, states there is little prospect of finding the cost reductions necessary for the roll-out of solar from conventional and thin-film panels instead asserting hope lies with the development of next-generation solar technology which, the report adds, the UK is ploughing R&D money into.

In the build-up to the conference, there was speculation tougher measures would be taken to ensure solar schemes are not placed in the countryside, with Barker telling the Financial Times, panels should be deployed on car parks, warehouses and supermarkets rather than in the green belt, in a nod to the fears of voters in the Tory heartlands of South East England.

No new action on ‘unsuitable’ PV schemes

But the roadmap only reiterated planning guidance had been issued to local authorities to ensure renewables schemes do not have negative visual or cultural impacts. The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was unable to respond to pv magazine‘s enquiry about the nature of the guidance issued.

A map of UK solar deployment, included in the roadmap document, illustrates most projects are in the South West of England with clusters in the most heavily populated areas of Scotland and Wales rather than in the post-industrial Midlands and North of England where Barker presumably wants to see panels installed. Elsewhere, however, the roadmap refers to the widespread adoption of solar in Germany as an inspiration before adding the climate in the South East of England is the closest to that of the European number one for solar uptake.

Another notable aspect of the report, a year ahead of an election in which Prime Minister David Cameron is pinning his hopes on a referendum on EU membership as a vote-winner, is the repeated references to the EU compromise with China over minimum module prices which, according to the report, makes it even more difficult to find the cost reductions needed to achieve that 20 GW target.

UK solar trade body the Solar Trade Association was unable to respond to pv magazine‘s questions about the roadmap.