Here’s what she had to say…
Solar PV is an important part of the UK’s energy mix and very much a renewables success story – overall deployment has surpassed expectations.
Since 2010, from a starting point of almost zero, you, the industry, have now exceeded 4GW of capacity. This is a fantastic achievement.
It means that the UK now has enough solar to power more than 900,000 homes with over half a million households now benefiting from generating their own solar energy.
That’s over half a million homes that are benefiting from a permanent reduction in their energy bills. And half a million homes that are benefiting from clean and secure renewables generation.
A powerful engine of growth
But solar energy is not just good for helping to deliver affordable, clean and secure energy supplies, it is also a powerful engine for growth – driving small and medium sized businesses and creating thousands of jobs up and down the country.
Indeed, earlier this year, the National Solar Centre estimated that the industry supported up to around 14,000 jobs. And the more the sector deploys, the more jobs it generates, especially in the building mounted sector, which attracts more jobs than solar farms.
But before I go any further, let me tell you the three main points that I would like to make today:
Firstly, the UK’s solar sector has a bright future. A great deal of progress has been made in recent years and we have increased our ambition for the industry further still.
Secondly, however, we must ensure that the future growth of solar is put on a sustainable financial footing.
Thirdly, I would like to take the opportunity to update you on a number of actions that my officials have been working on as part of our new Solar Strategy.
To my first point, as our Solar Strategy set out earlier this year, we have a high level of ambition for the sector.
In fact, our level of ambition has expanded – we are expecting to see 10GW to 12GW deployed by 2020 and possibly more, especially if you, the industry, are able to bring costs down and drive further innovation between now and then.
Indeed, if we’re able to reach grid parity by 2020, as I hope, then we could see solar really fly, not on bill payer funded subsidy, but as a real financially independent, cost competitive industry.
The Strategy set our intention to work with you to help really drive solar PV to this next stage of growth and ensure the sector’s ongoing success – including Government leading the way and deploying 1GW on our own Government buildings.
The Strategy placed a particular emphasis on maximising the potential of the as yet little tapped mid-size projects on commercial and industrial rooftops – which has the potential to bring greater on-site generation to help organisations better manage their energy bills.
Only last week I visited Kingspan’s factory near York and saw their beautiful 2.5MW solar PV rooftop array. Along with energy efficient lighting, the array should produce enough energy to power 7,000 homes.
And in September I saw the new solar roof at the IKEA store in Southampton. Yet IKEA are not just powering their buildings through the massive 39,000 panels that are installed across their UK stores and distribution centres, and I was also pleased to see that they are selling domestic solar installations through their stores too.
These are great examples of how Solar PV can power growth in this country. And there are others too including Jaguar Land Rover’s solar PV array at its Engine Manufacturing Centre in the West Midland which will generate over 30% of the site’s total energy requirements – the equivalent to powering more than 1,600 homes.
Competing in the energy market
But of course, our ultimate goal is for renewables to be competitive with other forms of electricity generation, and we need to balance government support with the need for value for money for taxpayers.
You will be aware that large-scale solar PV has actually been deploying at a much faster than previously expected. In many ways this progress is good news, making a valuable contribution to UK electricity generation.
Yet we must also ensure that the success of the solar sector is delivered in a way that offers best value for money for taxpayers and allows us to offer effective support to the renewables sector as a whole.
Which brings me to my third point; I would like to update you on the progress we are making towards putting in place a framework for the sustainable growth of the solar sector.
On 2nd October, following a consultation period, my Department set out a package of new financial support measures for solar PV.
Now I know that there have been concerns over changes to the Renewables Obligation (RO), but I believe that overall these announcements demonstrate that we have listened to you, and set out a clear, long-term framework for the solar PV industry, supporting deployment as costs continue to fall.
Firstly, on the issue of the budgets for Contracts for Difference (CfDs), we announced an increase in the pot for established technologies of £15m. This increase of around 1/3 from the indicative budget provided in the summer opens the door to more solar to come forward.
We are looking forward to seeing solar PV developments enter the first allocation round, and there is a lot for the industry to play for – with the potential for significant amounts of deployment to be supported in this round.
And we should highlight the benefits of the CfD framework, as a private law contract, to provide the stability and visibility to support investment going forward.
Secondly, on the issue of the RO closure, we know that the industry was concerned by the proposals to close the RO to large scale solar.