UK: STA notes solar job losses already underway

A survey by the Solar Trade Association (STA) of more than 200 solar firms operating in the U.K. has found that 576 positions have already been terminated in the industry since the announcement by the government to slash solar subsidies by as much as 87%.

A further 1,600 employees have been ‘put on notice’, the STA survey found, prompting the association to urge the government to secure the solar industry to protect against further widespread job losses.

The survey sample represented just 10% of the U.K.’s solar industry, and the STA claims that as many as 6,500 jobs may already have been lost, with a further 18,500 at risk.

Confirmed job losses are around 1,800, but over the course of next year as solar support is withdrawn and diminished, as many as 35,000 solar and solar-related roles could be at risk, according to an estimate that the STA survey supports.

"Those 1,800 jobs that we know have already gone represent technical skills and experience that has been built up in the solar industry over the last five years," said STA CEO Paul Barwell. "It is this very supply chain and know-how that is essential to delivering low-cost solar. And yet the government is at risk of throwing many more of these jobs away."

The final decision on when the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will enact its feed-in tariff (FIT) cuts has been potentially delayed for three months, but the STA noted that these redundancies have arrived even before any concrete action has been taken – a situation that highlights the importance of stable government policy where solar is concerned.

The STA’s "£1 emergency solar rescue plan" – which outlines a solution to continue supporting solar at more generous FIT rates that will only add £1 to each customer’s annual energy bill – has been raised three times in Parliament in the past week. The plan has cross-party support from MPs and a wide range of groups and associations eager to see the U.K.’s most well-liked source of energy given access, for just a little longer, to a level playing field on energy.

Solar’s grassroots appeal has been part-and-parcel of its success in the U.K., but the STA survey suggests that as many as 90% of the jobs the industry supports – many of them in small, local startups – could be at risk.

"When your local solar company around the corner makes one of its installers redundant, it doesn’t hit the headlines like when a company goes bust," STA head of external affairs Leonie Greene told the BBC. "But we now know that over 500 of these jobs, and probably thousands more, have already silently disappeared in communities up and down the country."