The government had its day in court in March but lost. The judges decided to go against the cuts proposed by the coalition to the feed-in tariff that is paid to consumers who generate their own electricity using solar power. That decision won plaudits from environmentalists – but the future of such subsidies is still uncertain.
The nature of such tariffs for generating electricity is that they must decline over time as the technology becomes more attractive and widespread. Meanwhile, some question the focus on micro-generation such as domestic solar when, they argue, money could be spent more effectively on generating renewable energy through large projects such as windfarms.
The UK is sometimes thought of as unsuited to solar but the statistics show that last December there were 230,000 solar projects in the country with a capacity of 750MW and by February this had increased to 1,000MW. The scale and scope of projects is increasing all the time. Some of these new additions will have benefited from the courts’ decision to overturn the proposed slashing of the feed-in tariff for solar panels installed between 12 December 2011 and 3 March this year. These installations will now be eligible to receive the payments at the previous higher rate – 43.4p/kWh.
According to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), solar power is the fastest-growing energy technology. Many thousands of people are using solar photovoltaics (PVs) on their roofs to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, and others are heating water using solar thermal technology.
PV technology is attractive because it delivers electricity at the point of use. Solar PV cells can be used for a wide range of applications such as watches and calculators, and individual houses, but this ranges up in scale to large grid-connected solar farms. Providing that there is a suitable place to mount the system, PV can be used for domestic as well as larger industrial or commercial applications and has various cost-effective applications to suit specific needs, says the REA.
An additional benefit of PV is that it can be installed in areas where grid connection or other forms of generation are too expensive or not feasible. This may be in remote locations, but could also be in a city centre where grid connection may be impractical. For example, it can be cheaper to power parking meters with solar energy than from the grid.