Pulling wool over your eyes

Dom Maclaine, 20th October 2015

The public smacking that the United Nation (UN) gave the UK over cutting renewable subsidies does seem to be a last ditch attempt to save solar power in the UK.

The UK government plans to cut subsidies to photovoltaic by virtually 90% next January.

So why is it in the news now? The answer is obvious – the Paris climate summit at the end of next month. The big guns have been brought in to fight in solar’s corner.

The UN’s chief environment scientist Professor Jacquie McGlade said the UK was shifting away from clean energy as the rest of the world rushed towards it.

Global climate change measures are having an impact on global warming. But the impact is not happening fast enough say some. Bill Hare from Climate Analytics told BBC News: “There is a lot of progress but it’s not enough. A lot of countries are not going as far as they could – or even as far as would be in their long-term interests.”

Perhaps it would be more climate change cost-effective to stipulate that it will be legally required that everyone wears jumpers instead of turning the heating up?

Of course logic dictates you would need some kind of regulator to make sure everybody is wearing woollen jumpers, or nylon ones for the poor.  Say they are called Ofwool. And of course you would need a standards authority, say called Perl 1, and there would be a trade body that lobbies on behalf of jumper wearers, say the Association of Knitted Wool Producers.  The list goes on.

Putting this surreal digression aside, fun as it is, the rationale for the proposed cut to solar subsidies is clear to anyone who lives in the UK. This country isn’t a particularly sunny place and it is not the best place for solar no matter what the UN or a solar trade body, which by definition represents the PV manufacturers and installers, say.

But there’s also a bigger issue.  PV’s output is concentrated in the summer when the GB system demand is at its lowest. The greater the quantity of PV and other renewables, the more difficult it becomes to run the nuclear plant at baseload and other plants to run at even more restricted load factors.  This in turn means that investments in the conventional technologies no longer look as attractive as they once might have.

To some the draconian interventions of the new government in the small scale renewables sector are a signal that it wants to take complete control of what gets built and when – the idea of decentralised energy system is a long way down its list of priorities. Perhaps wearing a jumper is not such a bad idea after all?

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