One in three UK solar jobs lost in past 12 months, data shows

Depressing data gathered by the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association (STA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has today revealed the full extent of the damage that a series of regressive subsidy cuts have done to the British solar industry.

According to the STA, one in three of all solar jobs in the country have been lost over the past year, with a further 30% of companies working in the industry expecting to cut staff over the next 12 months.

In a survey of 238 solar industry firms carried out by the STA and PwC, results revealed that they collective employed 3,665 people. A year ago, that figure stood at 5,362, the analysis showed, highlighting a 32% reduction in employment.

Further, four out of ten solar firms surveyed responded that they are either being forced to exit the solar industry entirely, or seek other revenue streams through diversification in order to stay afloat. If these data trends are taken as an average for the entire U.K. solar sector, then the STA can confidently forecast that job losses in solar over the past year have exceeded 12,500.

The downward trend for solar employment began in 2015 following a series of swingeing cuts to subsidies in the sector, not least at large scale, where the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) – which had proven a stable driver of growth – was reduced a year early, forcing many firms to rush to finish their projects before April 1 this year in order to be eligible. Other setbacks include a severe reduction in the FIT, particularly at residential scale, while recent changes to commercial property tax also threaten to puncture the promise in the commercial rooftop sector.

As a result of these policies, solar deployment in the U.K. is expected to fall from an average of 1 GW annually over the past five years, to below 300 MW – a drop of 75%, calculates the STA.

While severe subsidy cuts are rarely welcomed, it has been the government’s muddled approach to its solar industry that has proven the most damaging, the STA said, with a lack of consistency and overall industrial strategy characterizing the government’s handling of the matter.

Today, the government allocates just 1% of new renewable energy project expenditure to solar power under the FIT, but the recently created Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has – the STA’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene believes – a welcome opportunity to stop the rot and put in place a strategic approach designed to extract the most value from this increasingly affordable and publicly backed technology.

"The survey shows very regrettable damage to the fabric of the British solar industry and the need for prompt government action," said Greene.

"Shockingly, since we undertook the survey, business investors in solar are set to be hit with a 6-8 fold rise in business rates.

"We urge ministers, rather than increase the tax burden of going solar, please reward investment with sensible solar tax breaks consistent with action on climate change. International experience of tax breaks is solid, and the industry is clearly behind this."

Greene added that the U.K.’s solar industry represents a fine hope in post-Brexit Britain to create homegrown jobs and opportunities, all the while decarbonizing the economy.

PwC’s head of renewables John Dashwood added that despite the solar industry facing serious challenges, it had already proven itself resilient and adaptable. "There will be a structural shift in the market and solar players need to consider alternative products, services and markets."

A key sub-market identified by around half of those companies surveyed is new build properties, with both the new mayor of London and the Scottish government recently exploring ways to integrate solar technology in newly built homes and premises. Other British solar firms have begun eyeing opportunities overseas, particularly in emerging markets in Africa and Latin America.