UK government supports solar for Africa, slashes subsidies at home

CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Solarcentury

I received two interesting press releases over the weekend.

The first, from Power for All—a campaign aiming for universal energy access through renewables—was jubilant: Power for All receives UK support for Africa's poor to achieve energy access through distributed renewables. The second, from UK solar installer Solarcentury, not so much:Government’s proposed £7m budget for solar equivalent to subsidising Hinkley Point for just two days (Hinkley Point refers to a new, massively subsidized and Chinese-built nuclear reactorin the works for South West England).

With the UK's Department for International Development throwing its weight behind solar for rural communities in Africa, you'd think the government would also be pushing renewables as the wave of the future at home too. After all, from Morocco targeting 50% renewables within the next 5 years and the world's biggest utility breaking up with fossil fuels, there does appear to be increasing momentum behind a decarbonization of the world's energy system. What government could possibly want to be left behind?

And yet the UK's Conservative party—which previously pulled the rug out from under the solar industry with rapid subsidy cuts—appears once again to be favoring centralized nuclear power and fracking over a future of distributed renewables. Having announced sweeping cuts to support for solar and onshore wind, cuts which have seen several major companies go out of business and several overseas players exit the UK market, the Conservatives have drawn fire from across the political spectrum—including London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson and former US Vice President Al Gore.

Of course, the solar industry has always insisted that it can and must work to become independent of Government subsidies (unlike its fossil fueled competition) but what has solar advocates fuming is the rapid, unpredictable way with which the subsidy cuts have been handled.

Frans van den Heuvel, CEO at Solarcentury, put it this way:

“The UK urgently needs to cut its carbon emissions yet the government wants to slash our investment in solar at the same time as the US, China and other large economies are embracing renewable technologies. These confusing policy signals are already damaging investor confidence, before the outcome of the proposal has even been announced; over a thousand jobs have been lost in the UK, and global players like Zep Solar and SunEdison are both pulling out of the UK market. Why is the government using bill payers’ money to support overseas state-backed utilities rather than British solar companies, which would have considerable further growth prospects with a modest level of subsidy support?”

UK government supports solar for Africa, slashes subsidies at home
As rural African communities get support for distributed solar, UK installers are reeling at the pace of subsidy cuts at home.

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