Rethink Solar URGENTLY: REA Solar Fact Checker

Solar technology is not understood in the UK and outdated and incorrect assumptions risk derailing a live and exceptional green growth opportunity.  Read REA’s Solar Fact Checker and rethink solar PV.

REA Chief Executive, Gaynor Hartnell, anticipating the publication of the Fast-track review of solar feed in tariffs for projects over 50kW, said;

“The fact is the UK has not caught up with rapid developments in the global solar PV industry – or shown much interest in the facts.  On any objective analysis this is a serious power source that demands respect.  It is also extremely popular with the public.

An ambitious push on PV in the UK will result in tens of thousands of new green jobs.  It would be a terrible loss if the ‘greenest Government ever’ reigns in on the UK’s already modest solar vision and ambition.  We’d like to hear DECC talk up this technology and re-examine its potential based on the facts.”

MYTH: Solar is a marginal technology

FACT: Solar is the fastest growing energy generation technology in the world  Source: Earth Policy Institute Eco Economy Indicators

MYTH: Solar PV is happening on a small scale

FACT: More solar capacity was installed than any other renewable technology across Europe last year.  Solar PV now powers around 10 million EU homes.  The UK has the lowest plans for solar of all the big EU economies – and even less than Belgium! 
Sources: EPIA press release 22/2/2011 + EU Renewable Energy Action Plans available on Commission’s website

MYTH:  Solar can’t deliver much power in the UK

FACT:  South facing roofs and facades alone could deliver around a third of UK electricity supply.  The technical potential using other roofs and ground-mounted systems goes well beyond UK electricity demand. Note that even flat roofs receive 90% of an optimum system in the UK.  
Sources: 2020 A vision for UK PV, UK Photovoltaic Manufacturers Assoc, March 2009 (140TWh S roofs and facades); IEA PVPS Annual Report 2002 (105TWh S roofs only); Prof David McKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, 2009 (111TWh S roofs only); PV Compare Project, Photovoltaics in the UK, Jardine & Kane, Environment Change Institute, University of Oxford, 2003

MYTH:  Solar power is expensive

FACT:  The cost of solar has dropped faster than any other technology over the past decades with each doubling of capacity resulting in a 20% drop in technology costs.  Solar has the potential to be the cheapest power generation source in the world.  All commentators expect solar to reach grid parity in nearly all countries in most market sectors before 2020.  There has been recent news of the first instance of solar power outbidding natural gas in a Californian energy contract!
Sources: Global Overview on Grid Parity Event Dynamics, Breyer & Gerlach, 2010; IEA Technology Roadmap Solar PV Energy, 2010; European Climate Foundation, Roadmap 2005: Practical Guide to a Prosperous low-carbon Europe, Brussels, 2010,; Solar PV Becoming Cheaper than Gas in California? Renewable Energy World, 8/2/2011

MYTH: 5MW solar schemes are ‘super-size’

FACT: 5MW schemes are described by Decc as ‘super-size’.  In fact 5MW is small by international standards where 50MW+ schemes are common.  The world’s largest solar PV system will begin construction this year in California at 550MW.  Source; common knowledge and ubiquitous global PV industry reports

MYTH:  The Feed-In Tariff should focus on microgen solar and that was all it was meant to do.

FACT:  Tax payers and domestic customers benefit from diverse applications where commercial-scale builds volumes and supply-chains lowering unit costs.  A micro-sector is unlikely to support new manufacturing opportunities. The UK FIT was designed for schemes up to 5MW and Tariffs were published for all technologies up to this scale.  Both the Conservatives and LibDems raised expectations of more ambitious FITs in opposition.  Source: REA technology experts

MYTH:  All PV is made in China…

FACT: The UK manufactures 4% of global solar cells and has over 60* companies involved in the manufacturing supply chain.  Asian cells can be remanufactured into UK building integrated products.  While new manufacturing is important, 80% of jobs are in installation.  *source Electronics, Sensors, Photonics KTN

MYTH:  The UK is cloudy and wet and not suited to solar

FACT: The UK has a similar solar resource to Germany, the world’s largest PV market which last year installed more than double the capacity the UK plans in total to 2020.  While systems in Mediterranean countries produce more output, higher temperatures reduce efficiency.  You might be surprised to learn that ‘in the summer months performance is only marginally better as longer day lengths in more northerly latitudes compensates for the lower light intensity in the UK’. 
Source: PV Compare Project, Photovoltaics in the UK, Jardine & Kane, Environment Change Institute, University of Oxford, 2003

MYTH:  The UK can’t afford to invest in solar power

FACT:  The UK can’t afford not to given the emergence of PV as a future major energy source.  The UK is lagging at almost bottom off the EU renewable energy league table and has recently scored L for renewable electricity from the European Commission who said countries should “ensure that any reforms of existing national support schemes will guarantee the stability for investors”.  FIT schemes incur low costs in early years, which fits will with UK emergence from recession.  The German PV FIT scheme adds more value to their economy than it costs and has created 50,000 jobs.  The sector has a structured strategy for taking a 12% global market share by 2020, anticipating €14billion exports and 130,000 jobs. 
Sources: European Commission Report on Progress on Renewable Energy 2010 The True Value of Photovoltaics for Germany, AT Kearney, 2010; Directions for the solar Economy PV Roadmap 2020, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and Prognos AG, 2010.

MYTH:  Solar can’t compete with tech like nuclear power

FACT:  On true cost solar PV has already hit parity with nuclear power.  According to research estimates it has achieved this with just 2% of the global R&D given to the global nuclear industry.  
Source: Research and development investments in PV – a limiting factor for a fast PV diffusion? Breyer et al, 2010

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