What's all this solar power political penny-pinching all about – anyhow?

16-10-2018 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Millions of us would have seen or heard about the latest IPCC report on global warming, the content of which was extremely scary to say the least.

In simple terms if things don't change within the next 20 years this planet is in serious trouble. The signs are all there with recurring extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice all morbidly illustrating the dangers.

So things have to change and one of the key points made in the report is the fact that government attitudes must change and they should do much more to curb greenhouse gas emission. And that very much includes the UK Government.

Now we've all heard the outpourings of pseudo sincere hyperbole from the mouths of politicians relative to global warming so why is it that these posturing eco-warriors in government have made it far less attractive for private households to invest in solar panels on their roofs?

Obviously having to rely less on coal and gas-fired electricity power stations to heat domestic essentials like hot water is an environmental no-brainer and there is no doubt that solar panels help to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in 2010 the Government launched its feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme which financially supported households with solar power facilities that fed back excess electricity to the national grid.

Great idea. It encouraged homeowners who were pondering solar panels for their roofs to go ahead and invest in them.

However, in 2016 the politicians decided to close that scheme and launch another FIT scheme, but this one had limitations which means that it will take households longer to recuperate the cost of solar panel installation. Not sure that I see the how such a manoeuvre fits with all that environmental concern we hear about from the corridors of power.

Now here's a personal perspective from me regarding solar panels. It can only be described as purely anecdotal but it has a relevance.

Not so long ago I was travelling from Munich, Germany to Nuremberg on their ICE (InterCity Express train) and while it quietly zapped through the Bavarian countryside at 180mph I was struck by how many homes in the towns and villages we passed that had solar panels installed. Certainly far more than you'd see here in the UK. How come?

Quite simply the German Feed-in-Tariff promises a fixed price to energy producers for every kilowatt-hour produced for a fixed period of generally 20 years. And the fixed price is usually high enough to ensure a return on investment in renewable energy systems like solar panels.

Unsurprisingly, this scheme has been extremely successful. In fact, the production of electricity from renewable sources in Germany was only 6% in 2000, increasing to 24% by 2012 and up to about 28% in 2014. If this growth trend continuous Germany could be powered by 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

So why did the UK Government decide to cut back Feed in Tariffs on solar generated electricity? Its argument is that solar panel technology has come down in price and is therefore more affordable. In fairness they're not wrong. It's reasonable to say that solar technology costs half of what it used to.

But despite that the incentive for those households teetering on the brink of making the financial investment of between £4000 to £6000 to install solar panels in their roof has been reduced and may mean that many just wont bother, unlike similar families in Bavaria.

OK, so the politicians would say they have to save money but if that's the case why are they prepared to spend billions on nuclear generated energy rather than the far cheaper alternatives like solar power?

Reducing the financial incentive does more than just deter people from installing solar panels. It also stifles environmental thinking. People need to feel they are doing something to cut greenhouse gases and once they have embarked on one successful way of helping the planet they typically start to consider others.

From purely an electronics industry perspective the solar panel market sector is an important one. It is predicted to be worth approximately €420 billion in five years time and the photovoltaic element of solar panel technology, the area which uses substantial amounts of semiconductor technology, is expected to have a value of €350 billion by the end of this decade.

So despite some of the hindrance inflicted upon the industry by some politicians solar power generated electricity looks set for substantial growth in certain regions of the planet Earth, something that the 40 countries that helped prepare the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming will undoubtedly be happy about.

 

Read more electronics news related to solar power technology : How Solar Power Can Be Revolutionised with Simple Efficiencies


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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