Mike Scott writes how there is little doubt that the UK’s attempts over the last year to get a grip on its solar incentives programme were handled terribly.
The government announced a consultation period on proposed cuts last October but set the date for the cuts to come into force two weeks before the consultation period ended. As well as suggesting that the decision had already been made, it understandably got the back up of the UK’s solar industry and environmental groups, which took the government to court on the basis that its actions were unlawful – and won.
It also rather undermined coalition claims that it wanted to be the “greenest government ever” and suggested that ministers were not taking seriously their own rhetoric about creating green jobs and a low-carbon economy.
But while the execution was incredibly cack-handed – a case study in how not to go about it, in fact – the rationale was surely right. Downing Streetwas caught out by just how fast costs were falling in the sector as Chinese manufacturers ramped up capacity and the cost of key raw materials such as silicon dropped. The price of photovoltaic (PV) modules is 75% lower than it was three years ago and even today the price of silicon continues to fall by around 1% every week.
This meant that UK subsidy payments, known as feed-in tariffs (FiTs) quickly became far higher than needed to encourage uptake of solar. It is a fine balance between encouraging the roll-out of new technology and lining the pockets of early adopters.
Although the industry is understandably grumbling that support has been cut from 25 to 20 years, consumers are unlikely to lose out given the way other energy prices are predicted to rise over that period. And while the last six months have been unsettling for the sector, the apocalyptic forecasts of its demise are overdone.
Indeed, solar is in many ways a victim of its own success in bringing its costs down and seems likely to be the first energy sector to wean itself off subsidies within the next few years, in stark contrast to the more traditional nuclear and fossil fuel providers, which after many decades still remain heavily supported, according to the International Energy Agency.
The solar experience will provide a blueprint for other renewable energy technologies such as wind, wave and tidal and if these technologies can show themselves able to move to a post-subsidy future, it is sure to add to the growing pressure on the fossil fuel sector to wean itself off public support, too – something that G20 governments have signed up to, at least in principle.
A new paper by Bloomberg New Energy Finance says that PV prices have fallen “to the point where solar power is now competitive with daytime retail power prices in a number of countries.
“The shift in prices of solar technology carries major implications for policy and investment decision-makers, especially when it comes to the choice of generating technology and the design of tariff, fiscal and other support policies,” the clean energy analyst group says, “but many observers and decision-makers have yet to catch up with the improvements in the economics of solar power that have resulted from recent PV technology cost and price reductions.”
The UKis not the only country grappling with how to deal with this. Rates have been cut around Europe – in Spain, Italy, France, and the Czech Republic to name few – with even Germany, the world’s biggest solar market, struggling to reduce support in a smooth and predictable manner. According to the country’s grid regulator, German solar installations more than tripled in the first quarter compared to the same time a year ago in the run-up to a cut in the FiT.
The thing to remember is that the technology may have been around for decades, but as an industry, the solar sector is incredibly new and it remains extremely artificial. The world’s biggest solar markets are not China, where most solar equipment is made or Australia, Africa, India, Latin America and the Middle East where the solar resource is highest. Instead, they are Germany and Italy, thanks entirely to generous support schemes. But as costs continue to fall, solar power will become truly commoditised, its reach will increase further around the world, technology will continue to improve and costs will fall still further.
In the meantime, governments are having to learn as they go along how to manage subsidy regimes that are doing their job – as costs fall, subsidies are falling.
And the UK government does appear to have learnt its lesson – its latest proposals seem to have been well-received by the industry and provided the certainty that investors need. Cuts to the FiT have been delayed until August, from when the tariff for a small domestic solar installation will be 16p/kwh, down from 21p, and it will decrease every three months, with pauses if the market slows down. At the same time, the export tariff will be increased from 3.2p to 4.5p.
Even Friends of the Earth says that the industry “has been broadly put back on its feet”.
Just as importantly, the infrastructure the industry needs to enable it to thrive is catching up with the supply of cheap panels – recent examples include the change in planning regulations which means small-scale commercial solar installations no longer require planning permission and the announcement by Engensa of a dedicated loan that enables homeowners to “Pay-as-they-Save” for their solar PV system out of the FiT payments and savings from their energy bills.
The tale of UK solar subsidies was a sorry saga – but the future for the industry is looking brighter as a result of it.
Mike Scott is a freelance writer specialising in environment and business issues for the press and corporate clients. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Times, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph as well as in business publications ranging from Bloomberg New Energy Finance to Flight International.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
Top 5 Changes You can Make in Your Life to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
In a world, where war rages and global warming threatens our very existence, the inhabitants of earth need to be extra vigilant in their efforts to go green. This includes reducing your carbon footprint on the earth and leading a more sustainable life.
Many homeowners feel perplexed by all of the options available to reduce their carbon footprint. They may even feel (falsely) that making their household more green will fail to make that much of a difference in the fight to save our planet.
Even a single home going green has a massive impact on the environment. We can win this battle on home at a time. If you’re interested in accepting the challenge of making your household a green home, read on below for a few of the top changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint. We all stand to benefit from making the earth safer for future generations – and your wallet won’t complain when you start to see the savings in annual energy costs.
Switch From Dirty Energy to Clean Solar
The ION Solar reviews tell it all–solar is the best way to go. Whether your goal is to slash your energy bills, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the sun is a fantastic source of renewable energy.
It’s important to get past the hype from solar installers. Instead, listen to the plethora of impartial customer reviews that mention everything from a $20 energy bill, to the incredible feeling of knowing that you are doing your part by going green and minimizing harmful emissions in to our atmosphere.
The average investment is $15,000 to $30,000 for installation and purchase of solar panels. Optional battery power packs can help provide consistent power during both night and day. And many government agencies provide federal, state or local grants to help offset upfront investments in clean energy.
Depending on which installed you choose, your household may qualify for low-interest or zero interest loans to cover the up-front cost of your installation. And the loan payments are usually less than your current monthly power bill.
It really is a win-win, as home buyers are looking for homes that feature this technology – meaning solar power installation improves the resale value of your property.
And there are a number of additional home modifications that can help improve the energy efficiency of your home. A programmable thermostat can better manage energy consumption from home cooling and heating systems while you’re away from home. And weather stripping your doors can help keep cool air in during the summer, and warm air in during the winter.
Of course, energy conservation starts at home. And this includes setting a powerful example for your kids. Teach your children how to close windows, strategically keep doors open or closed based on airflow, and encourage them to leave the thermostat alone – opting for adding or removing layers of clothing instead.
Unplug Appliances and Shut Off Electronics
Unplugging your appliances when they aren’t in use, such as the toaster and the coffee maker, has more of an impact than you might think. Set your TVs and stereos on sleep timers, instead of letting them run around the clock. The cumulative impact of wasteful electronic device usage is horrible for our environment – putting unnecessary strain on our electrical grid.
One of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by recycling. You are already throwing this stuff away anyway, right? It doesn’t take much more effort to just put recyclables in a separate container to be recycled, now does it?
Oh, and did I mention that you can earn money for recycling? Yes! Many cities and towns have recycling centers that will purchase your clean plastic and glass bottles for reuse.
Minimize Your Water Usage
Water is one of the easiest things to forget about when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. Preserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shorten your shower by a few minutes and turn down the heat on that water heater. You’ll be surprised at how much lower your water bill and your energy bill will be.
Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love?
These are just a few of the top ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living a greener lifestyle. And we aren’t factoring in all of the advantages that we’ll reap from public investments in a smarter energy grid.
From decreasing your water usage, to switching to solar for your home’s energy needs, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you are doing your part to save the future of this planet for generations to come!
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