The Government has today published plans to end support for solar thermal hot water heating, just as the UK market had started to recover. If the proposals go through the internationally proven technology will be cut out of the Renewable Heat Incentive entirely next year.
The shock new proposal comes after repeated statements from British Energy Minister Amber Rudd that renewable heat is the major focus for UK renewables policy given the UK is off track on its 2020 renewables targets.
The proposals also put at risk jobs in domestic manufacturing in renewables. The UK has a number of solar thermal manufacturers – including Viridian in Cambridgeshire, AES in Moray in Scotland, Thermatwin in Manchester and Solar UK in Sussex.
In 2014 green sources provided only 4.8% of the UK’s heat, which puts the UK way behind its self-imposed target of 12% renewable heat by 2020 . It also follows warnings by the Committee on Climate Change that greater effort is needed on renewable heat.
Solar thermal is one of the most established and accessible renewable energy technologies with over 350GW of global capacity, considerably more than the global capacity for solar PV. Its applications have expanded into space heating, community heating, district heating, hotels, hospitals and industrial processes. Solar thermal also works effectively alongside other renewables technologies.
Paul Barwell, Chief Executive, Solar Trade Association, commented: “This proposal simply doesn’t make sense. The government acknowledges the many benefits of solar thermal, yet proposes singling it out for the removal of financial support.
“With UK renewable heat deployment falling desperately behind target, government should be full square behind this technology as part of a strategic plan to permanently bring down heating costs for British families.”
“Discriminating against this globally important technology in the UK would send a terrible message to householders, and it would have very serious ramifications for the British solar thermal sector.
“Manufacturers of solar thermal equipment, including cylinder manufacturers as well as installers, risk a full scale winding-up of their sector. We are urging government to think again, particularly since sales enquiries are on the rise.”
The technology is also popular with social housing associations in the UK in helping to tackle fuel poverty.
Gordon Watts, Sustainability Manager at South Yorkshire Housing Association said; “The use of solar thermal panels to provide hot water in some of our existing housing schemes helps to keep our customers’ gas bills down, and this technology and other renewables continue to be important options we consider as part of our stock development and improvement plans.
“Continuation of the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Feed-in Tariff is important for solar thermal and other renewables until these markets more fully mature.”
The proposal is doubly surprising because of the Government’s stated intention in the consultation to ensure less-able-to-pay households can benefit better from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
Unlike other renewable heat technologies solar thermal has negligible running costs, can be added to existing heating systems, and its performance does not depend on investing in a highly insulated house, making it particularly well suited to homes in fuel poverty. It also works effectively in built-up urban areas and on smaller roofs, broadening the opportunities for British homes to invest in renewables.