Solar Panels on a House Roof

DECC this week announced  they would start a review of the Feed in Tariff rate for Solar and Anaerobic Digestion. They are concerned that there are too many large scale Solar Farms in the pipeline and that is taking money away from domestic PV potential. I should, however, point out the real reason for this review is the government cuts- if the government raised revenue rather than trying to cut spending, this review wouldn’t need to take place. Becuase of this review,  there will be a decrease in the tariff for large scale solar – here’s why I believe its a bad idea.

Now, at first glance it appears fair. Why should big business get to make all the money from solar, at the expense of individual homeowners? Well, the problem really lies with domestic solar, as described by George Monbiot in his article a number of months ago. Because of the capital costs needed to get solar panels on your roof, you probably need relatively easy access to a fair amount of capital. That strikes a large number of people, who simply cannot afford the up front costs, off the potential domestic list. Secondly, you need to own your own home to benefit – there goes another large tranche of society, and finally, you need to have a south facing roof to actually have a workable system.

So, the group who can benefit the most from domestic solar are people who are wealthy homeowners with a south facing roof. Now, there’s no problem with this group of society getting solar panels up and producing renewable energy. What is a problem is when the government actively states it wants to see more of this at the detriment to other people in society.

Large scale solar, like wind farms, give the opportunity to allow communities to invest in the scheme. People can give whatever they want and see a return on their investment – whether its £100 or £10,000. Community groups, such as housing associations, could invest in large scale schemes. This investment would then be a source of revenue that results in their tenants having lower rates of rent. There are plenty other options out there for large scale solar, and it is the best way of getting of people involved in the technology that might otherwise never have had a chance to.

But there are still problems with getting communities involved in renewables, hence why it has mainly been businesses that have been involved in large scale solar. For communities, the system of funding is complicated and overly bureucratic, and unless the community has the energy to go it alone, it will often have to go into partnership with developers, which means the developer has to be interested in working with communities in the first place.

This is a problem with community access to renewable energy – not the Feed in Tariff rates. What needs to be created is a publicly owned renewable energy development bank. Somewhere where communities can go to get easy access to cheap capital, that knows who to contact and how to push forward developments for the community, who can actively work with private developers, engineers, manufacturuers to delivery projects. Most definitely NOT what we have right now, which amounts to some advice about energy efficiency and grants that are overly complicated to get.

So large scale solar has much more potential benefits to the whole of society, and specifically community based energy, while domestic pv, while still renewable, only benefits a small number of generally wealthy people. DECC should leave the Feed in Tariffs for large scale solar as is, and instead start focussing more on how they can get more communities involved in renewables energy.