Jobs Toll Set to Worsen Amid UK Renewable Energy Subsidy Cuts 

The UK government’s hostility towards renewable energy subsidies continues to bite. Following a policy announcement last December that became effective in April, the industry was left facing a 60 percent cut to feed-in tariffs for solar, wind, hydro and anaerobic digestion.

Before the general election of May 2015 that saw coalition government end and gave the Conservative party its majority, renewables employed 117,000 people. But following what the UK Renewable Energy Association (REA) calls a ‘bonfire of the policies,’ jobs are being lost by the thousands.

“We won’t know what the full effect is across the industry until next year,” REA head of policy James Court told Renewable Energy World followig publication of his organization’s annual report. “But to give one example, at its peak 6,000 people were accredited to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme — allowed to install solar panels.

“Now I think it’s just over 2,000. If you’re looking at feed-in tariff deployment, you’re seeing a huge drop in installations over the last two months,” Court said.

The hard line against renewables subsidies has been driven by Energy and Climate Change Secretary of State Amber Rudd. Rudd is a former parliamentary private secretary to UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

Osborne and Rudd have also backed construction of a controversial new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, due to be built for French supplier EDF. If that project goes ahead, it will supply electricity at £92.50 per MWh — “the most expensive electricity a government has ever taken on,” Court said, adding that “looking at EDF’s track record and what the alternatives are, solar and wind are undeniably cheaper.”

Hinkley, he added, is a solution that is close to insensible.

“I think these are political decisions — the government is looking at its support base,” he said. “Energy policy used to be non-partisan. It isn’t now. But we have to keep making the arguments — you’d be surprised by how many Conservative moderates are on-side.”

Court, however, does see some glimmers of light — for example with solar, sites going ahead that are private wire schemes — providing power via a connection direct to a local customer.

“These won’t involve grid costs,” he said. “You can sell at retail price, rather than wholesale.”

He is also convinced that the UK’s beleaguered anaerobic digestion sector will revive. Currently, he said, there is “a lack of investor and government confidence in technology of this type,” but it will continue to be attractive.

“Unlike gas and nuclear, costs will continue to come down and projects will drive forward,” he said.

Court is also excited by the prospect of reduced dependency on the overstretched national grid through battery storage technology that doesn’t need a subsidy. Although still in its infancy, this technology is on the threshold of entering commercial production.

“Eighteen months ago, no one was talking about it here, but the REA now has a group of 150 who are involved,” he said.

He believes that the future lies in micro-generators — households with solar panels able to store their own power.

“We’ll start to see cost-effective technology very soon,” Court said.

Although current prices are around £12,000 for a domestic 4 kW system, one producer, he claimed, has sold out its waiting list — “though it won’t be enough for households to go totally off-grid.”

Lead image credit: Centre for Alternative Technology | Flickr

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Andrew Mourant is a UK-based freelance journalist whose specialisms include renewable energy, education and the rail industry.

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