UK clean energy groups welcome post-Brexit carbon budget adoption, but solar questions remain

The unedifying post-Brexit political turmoil currently engulfing the U.K. has already claimed a number of victims, and for a few shaky days there the solar industry – already wounded by a series of savage cuts inflicted by the Conservatives – had legitimate concerns over the direction, or lack thereof, environmental policy might take.

Which is why both the Solar Trade Association (STA) and the Renewable Energy Association (REA) have today welcomed the news that the government will adopt the U.K.’s fifth carbon budget, requiring a 57% reduction in emissions by 2032 from 1990 levels.

This confirmation – coming amid the Brexit fallout – is a "crucial first step in reassuring investors after the referendum campaign", said the REA, which stressed that such a decisive call gives the U.K.’s renewables industry and investors more long-term confidence.

However, further supportive policies designed to unlock finance in much-needed new energy infrastructure will be required, the REA said. "The fundamentals of energy have not changed post-referendum," said REA head of policy and external affairs, James Court. "We still need new generation that is cost effective, low carbon and secure.

"This would be the worst time for the government to row back or u-turn on existing commitments, which would be toxic to inward investors." Court added that the REA would like to see the introduction of a robust energy plan by the end of the year; one that embraces renewables that are "easier to finance than large centralized projects", and thus delivers energy security and price security to the U.K. at a time of great shock and uncertainty.

Solar sights lowered

The STA was equally forthcoming in its nod of approval at the government’s decision to uphold the carbon budget, but reiterated its long-standing aim: to wean the government off stop-start investments and short-term political planning – something that is of greater importance in the wake of the Brexit uncertainty.

"The Solar Trade Association very much welcomes the strong support expressed for solar by the Committee on Climate Change and by the Minister in her evidence to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee yesterday," said STA chairman Jonathan Selwyn. "However, in our meeting this week with Minister Andrea Leadsom we urged her Department to take specific actions to address the significant slow-down in the industry following the recent changes to the solar support framework. We believe that a number of relatively minor changes could help stimulate the market."

However, support for solar in the U.K. remains as thin as gruel, with Leadsom revealing yesterday a reduced PV target of just 13 GWp by 2020, down from a previous aim to have 20 GW installed by that date.

"With solar prices falling further and with Ministers continuing to emphasise the importance of cutting ‘subsidy’, the Government should be working with us to ensure further growth of this cheap technology into the 2020s, particularly when the Committee on Climate Change estimates that 40 GWp by 2030 is possible," added STA vice chairman Seb Berry.