UK: Tory victory muddies solar waters

Having surprisingly secured a majority government in yesterday’s U.K. general election, the Conservative Party – shorn of the left-leaning influence of previous coalition partners the Liberal Democrats – could be set to spring a few other surprises on the country’s solar landscape.

Second-term Prime Minister David Cameron is famously on record for telling a government aide to “get rid of all the green crap” from an environmental policy manifesto a few years back, but under his watch the U.K. has installed record numbers of solar PV.

Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association (STA) told U.K. solar website Solar Power Portal that the outlook for solar under a Tory government is currently unclear.

"On the positive side," Greene said, "Tory ministers have been strong advocates of roof-mounted solar. 650,000 solar roofs really is a world-class achievement. My sense is there has been growing frustration among the Tory ministers at the marginalizing of solar compared to more expensive technologies."

Greene also added that much of what had been disappointing about the previous coalition government’s solar decisions – such as removing the renewable obligation (RO) scheme early for large-scale solar – stemmed from decisions made by Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, who was secretary of state for energy and climate change under the last government.

Much now rests, believes Greene, on which minister is to be given charge of the U.K.’s energy policy under this new Conservative majority government. "There are such extremes of views in the parts, who Cameron appoints as energy minister will be a key indicator of the direction of travel."

Solar was notably absent from the Conservative’s pre-election manifesto, but there are hopes that the party will adopt a more long-term stance to the environment in the second term.

"Last month’s Conservative manifesto failed to reflect the ambition we expected and hoped for in regards to the future of the U.K.’s renewable energy industry," said Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association. "However, the prospect of a Conservative government now offers a fresh opportunity to show leadership in the sector.

"With the 2020 targets on the horizon, we now call on David Cameron and the incoming Government to take the measures required to enable the renewable energy industry to play a key role in the UK’s energy mix, including acknowledging the important role of value for money technologies including solar and biomass for power, heat and transport and measures including energy storage which could benefit the energy system at no extra cost to consumers."

Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, had these encouraging words for the Financial Times: "I think people are wrong to say there’s going to be a lurch [from green] to brown.