Saturday, 19 January 2008

Sun setting on solar power?

There are fewer solar panels in the UK than anywhere else in Europe - and no one's blaming the weather. Sarah Lonsdale spotlights a national disgrace
David Street's house in Nightingale Road, Stoke Newington, is the kind of new home all builders should be constructing.
That is if we are to stand any chance of meeting the Government's target to reduce carbon emissions from housing by 60 per cent by 2050. And Friends of the Earth say that is too low - it should be 80 per cent.

Unlike its wasteful Victorian neighbours, Mr Street's home consumes approximately two thirds less energy than a conventional house, has super-insulation, carbon- neutral windows, is built from recycled materials and most of its roof is covered in electricity-generating (PV) solar panels.

The house is not completely carbon-neutral, however, owing to the Government's mismanagement of the renewable energy grants system. The whole of the recycled rubber roof should have been solar-panelled but the owner-builder, college lecturer David Street, could not afford that.

This is because the Government's grants procedure for installing wind and solar energy systems in houses, under its Low Carbon Buildings Programme, is so complicated and inadequate that few homeowners feel the expense is worthwhile.
Despite Gordon Brown's positive talk about reducing carbon emissions, the UK's production of solar electricity remains extremely low - about 3 per cent of our electricity comes from the sun, compared to up to 20 per cent in other European countries.

Figures for per capita production of solar electricity show that the UK is 15th in Europe, behind Spain, Greece and Italy. These countries have more sun but, to our shame, we lag behind Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Holland.

"I missed out on £5,000 of grants because as I was building the house, the Government was in the process of changing the grants system," says Street.

By the time he managed to obtain his grant, it had become a flat rate of £2,500 per household, and as a result he had to cut back on the number of panels he installed.

"The Government is boasting about being green but is doing very little to help homeowners reduce their reliance on fossil fuel." Research by Labour MP Lynne Jones reveals that until March 21, 2007, 3,988 households had been awarded grants under the Low Carbon Buildings Scheme.

But in the six months from March to September, only 113 households had applied, because of the £2,500 cap. "Applicants are abandoning the scheme," says Dr Jones.

In a recent report, Dr Brenda Boardman, of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, blamed the "abysmally slow" rate of installations not only on the grants system, but on the amount paid to home generators who sell "green" electricity back to the National Grid.

In Germany and Spain, whose governments are actively encouraging micro- production of solar electricity, homeowners are paid about 30p per kWh (kilowatt hour) for electricity they sell back to the grid. In the UK, there is no national policy and the amount homeowners are offered for their clean, green electricity varies from a low of nothing to a high of 18p per kWh, paid by Scottish and Southern Energy.

Unsurprisingly, because the system costs more to install, and the payback time is more than three times as long than in other countries, UK homeowners are giving it a wide berth.

Since the government reduction, says Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth, the uptake of grants has "fallen off a cliff".

"It must be some kind of record that a grants system aimed at supporting a fledgling renewable energy industry has actually resulted in the shedding of jobs," he says.

"In Germany, the industry employs more than a quarter of a million people."

The Government's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform counters: "By introducing a maximum grant level, we can use the funds to support an increased number of installations. We believe the £2,500 cap will still make a useful contribution to PV installations going forward."

Launching the Conservatives' Green Paper Power to the People last month, David Cameron said: "Once people start generating their own electricity they will become far more conscious of the way in which they use it. A new system of tariffs, by which people are paid for the energy they produce, will stimulate diversity of power supply."

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, says: "All governments need to do is put their support in the right place and stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution."
full article

No comments: