Image credit: Solarcentury, used with permission.
Some folks may believe that solar feed-in tariffs are a subsidy for the wealthy, but it's not just the rich that are getting in on the action. Just like some pioneering solar affordable housing projects in the States, one UK housing authority is pressing ahead with plans to install solar on over 650 houses by 2012. The initiative will, it claims, make it the largest solar housing project in the country, and other housing associations are looking to follow its lead. With talk about fuel poverty grabbing the headlines recently, it makes sense that South Yorkshire Housing Authority has teamed up with Solarcentury to install solar panels on over 10% of its 4,000 properties. Each home is expected to generate 30% of the tenants' electricity consumption, making around 1,410 units (kWh) of electricity a year—which currently is expected to save them around £130 (approximately US$200) a year—but the Association stresses that it's major concern is the expected continued rise in energy costs, and how that will impact its residents. The scheme is also being accompanied by energy efficiency advice for residents.
While the residents themselves will benefit primarily from their reduced energy costs, and the premium price that they get for electricity they sell back to the grid, the Association will be able to fund the project due to the guaranteed income from the government's feed-in tariff scheme:
"Solar electricity owners are now paid a premium for the clean electricity they generate, guaranteed by the government for 25 years. This has led to building owners from homes and schools through to farmers and commercial businesses looking to generate an income on their roof. The return on investment can range from 7% to 9% so many, including SYHA, are taking out loans at 5% or less interest to cover investment cost because of the guaranteed return on investment. SHYA has invested this profit in new jobs to help residents understand the benefits of energy saving; helping to further the savings benefits to tenants."
I'm sure there will be many critics who continue to question the wisdom of subsidizing what is, undoubtedly, an expensive way to cut emissions—particularly in the UK. But as many commenters have noted before, we shouldn't focus solely on cost per tonne of CO2 saved at this stage, but rather on what points of leverage we have for pushing promising technologies to tipping points where they can stand on their own two feet.
More on Solar in the UK
Free Solar for Schools: Feed-In Tariff Funds Renewable Education
Solar Companies Inundated: Feed-In Tariff Prompts Massive Surge in Interest
Are Solar Feed-In Tariffs a Rip Off?
UK's First Utility-Scale Solar Power Plant Gets Go Ahead