Thursday 7 June 2012

They Work for you, Don't They?

What's going on in there?
Sometimes it it feels like the UK solar industry believes that the reason for the existence of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is to help solar businesses thrive.  This attitude seems to lead to an industry view that it's only incompetence that drives DECC to  fiddle around with the Feed in Tariff and leaves it unable to get on with implementing a domestic Renewable Heat Incentive.

The bad news for the solar industry is this: DECC doesn't work for you.

Solar industry commentators seeking to  offer their advice to our public servants might do well to take a walk in the shoes of the people on the other side of the table.  What are their goals and motivations?  Perhaps if we take a moment to understand, we would be able to present our aspirations in a way that is more persuasive.


The top-level drivers for renewable energy in the UK come from legally binding directives from the European Union (EU).  In response to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU set the so-called 20-20-20 targets.
By 2020 the EU as a whole will:
·         Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels  (UK 16%)
·         Provide at least 20% of energy consumption from renewable energy sources (UK 15%)
·         Reduce primary energy use by 20% through energy efficiency measures
Each national government has been set its own targets such that the EU as a whole meets its overall target.  The UK target where it exists is given in brackets.
Clearly these targets overlap.  For example reducing total energy use will increase the proportion of renewable energy even if this stays at the same absolute level. 
The energy efficiency target has produced a number of directives from the EU on the energy efficiency of products, cogeneration, and the energy performance of buildings.  This last directive requires that all new buildings in the EU should be “Nearly Zero Energy” by the end of 2020.

UK Policy

UK policy must take into account the legally binding obligations that arise from these EU directives. 
In 2008 the UK government introduced the Climate Change Act, the world’s first legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions (reducing by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 and 34% by 2020).  The 2020 target is more challenging than the EU requirement, but is only a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change.  The 2050 level is legally binding, although it’s not really clear who gets punished if the target is missed.
In its first report to the European Commission on progress towards the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, DECC lists 45 measures that have been implemented with the goal of achieving the UK target of 15% of energy from renewables.  Among these are:
·         Renewables obligation – payments to large scale renewable electricity generators (e.g. wind farms)
·         Feed in Tariffs – financial incentives for smaller-scale renewable electricity
·         Renewable Heat Incentive – financial incentives for renewable heat generators
·         Building Regulations –new homes to be zero carbon from 2016, non domestic from 2019
·         Electricity Market Reform – Contracts for Difference to pay investors in low-carbon electricity
·         Planning Policy – to encourage renewable energy projects to go ahead
·         Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation – requirement to include biofuel in petrol and diesel

Know Your Place

Clearly solar energy is only a part of the solution to the massive challenge of meeting these targets, but how big a part?

DECC has given a clue to its thinking with its Renewable Energy Roadmap, published in July 2011.  It estimates that 234 TWh per year of renewable energy will be required to hit the 15% target, and proposes the following breakdown as one scenario to meet this:

Mid-range estimate
Onshore wind
28 TWh
Offshore wind
46 TWh
Marine energy
1 TWh
Biomass electricity
41 TWh
Biomass heat
43 TWh
Heat pumps (non domestic)
19 TWh
48 TWh
Other (domestic, solar)
14 TWh

240 TWh

234 TWh

Disappointingly, but perhaps not unexpectedly it can be seen that the government is taking a big-industry, top-down approach to the problem.  Only 6% of the total is expected to come from domestic installations of heat pumps, solar heating and solar pv. 

However, to put this in context, 14 TWh per year from the domestic stream would be met by either:
·         9 million domestic installations of solar water heating

·         6million domestic solar pv installations of 2.8kWp (17 GWp total)
 Even at this level, the challenge is significant and is likely to require attractive and sustained government incentives to support deployment.   DECC’s focus on unpopular technologies that could get bogged down in local planning appeals means that solar pv and solar thermal may have an even bigger role to play in meeting the challenge and underlines the case for urgent progress with the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive.

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