British public vastly overestimate solar support levels, poll finds


British energy consumers are so uninformed of the costs associated with solar subsidies that the average person believes they are 22 times higher than they actually are, a new poll has found.

The Solar Trade Association (STA) commissioned a YouGov poll to determine how U.K. energy consumers viewed support levels for solar PV. On average, respondents with a view estimated that support for solar adds £196 ($297) to a typical household energy bill a year when, in actual fact, that figure is just £9 ($13.6) per bill, per annum. The median estimate from the poll was £100 ($151), reflecting the same mismatched views revealed earlier this year following a similar poll on wind power.

According to the STA’s CEO Paul Barwell, the survey reveals that solar is a cheaper source of energy than many people think, adding that the "perception of the costs of solar on bills has become grossly inflated."

"The government has justified the cuts to solar and renewables on the basis of reducing costs on bills, but hasn’t told people that the cost of getting solar subsidy-free – a breakthrough achievement – is relatively modest," Barwell added.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has slashed support for small-scale solar considerably over the past few months, reducing the feed-in tariff (FIT) for residential rooftop systems by 87% (effective from January 1, 2016) and ending the Renewable Obligation (RO) scheme a year early for smaller ground-mount installations.

This stripping-back of support for solar, predicated on a need to save on consumer energy bills, preceded a later announcement by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd that the government will phase out the use of its coal plants by 2025, plugging the energy shortfall with natural gas and nuclear power, rather than renewables, in what Rudd has labeled an ‘Energy Reset’.

Such an approach has been met with widespread criticism from the cleantech industry and most portions of the mainstream media. The data harvested so far – even from DECC’s own sources – would appear to reveal that solar is the public’s most popular form of energy. However, STA’s poll shows that most billpayers seem to have been misled the true costs of the energy source.

According to DECC’s own figures, reports the Independent newspaper, these enacted and forthcoming cuts to solar subsidy have led to savings of a mere 50p to £1.20 from an average annual energy bill, and now the department is steering funds and efforts into propping up a gas industry that is still, in many parts, reliant on Norway and Russia for supply, and a nuclear industry pinning its future on the expensive Hinckley Point C plant – which will be built by French firm EDF and owned by a state-backed Chinese firm.