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Solar Power

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

1. What steps his Department has taken to ensure that solar power can compete on a level playing field with other energy generation technologies. (909141)

18. What steps his Department has taken to ensure that solar power can compete on a level playing field with other energy generation technologies. (909159)

At a time when people think parliamentarians are engaged in some sort of slugfest, I commend the Opposition parties for perfect collaboration on this first question.

Solar is a UK success story, as I know all hon. Members will recognise. The feed-in tariff scheme, under which 80% of installations have been solar, has cost £5.9 billion to date in supporting those 830,000 installations. Prices have fallen over 80% since the introduction of the scheme, which is why we are amending it, as I set out in the smart export guarantee consultation, and I look forward to receiving the response of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).

Does the Minister agree that households exporting to the grid should be paid a fair rate? Will she ensure an explicit minimum price for exported electricity to allow the market to recover some confidence that new solar homes will receive treatment consistent with that of other electricity generators?

I completely agree that nobody should be exporting power to the grid for free, or indeed below zero as has happened in some other countries. The level at which that export tariff and the mechanism are set is a matter for consultation, and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s points on that subject.

Industry surveys show that 30% to 40% of solar firms installing domestic systems are now contemplating closure, given the mess that the Minister’s Department has made of policies for smaller-scale renewables. The Government’s own figures show that deployment of solar PV was less than 300 MW last year, down 90% compared with 2015, and Ofgem’s targeted charging review now threatens even the few solar farms that have been built without subsidy. Will she now meet the Solar Trade Association and its colleagues as a matter of urgency to discuss this latest threat to a part of our energy market that is critical to delivering carbon reduction?

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady about this being an important part of our energy market, which is why I am so proud that 99% of our solar installations have happened since a Conservative-led Government have been in power. I frequently meet the Solar Trade Association, which is always a pleasure. I encourage her to look beyond a regime of subsidy for delivering renewable energy, as the evidence of the numbers suggests that there are 2.3 GW of solar projects in the pipeline that already have or are awaiting planning permission and that could be delivered without subsidy. We are moving rapidly to a subsidy-free world for solar generation. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is true. It is important that we do not equate subsidy with output, and with actually delivering the power we want.

Does the Minister agree that making solar power compulsory for all new builds would be beneficial for the homeowner, would remove any need for subsidy and would cost the taxpayer nothing?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. He will know that building regulations now set minimum energy standards, couched in performance terms rather than being prescriptivist about the types of technology that should be used. Builders are increasingly adding renewable energy systems, but I am always interested to see what more we can do to bring forward such a good way of lowering bills and CO2 emissions.

Both solar and wind have been very successful in driving down industry costs, but does my hon. Friend recognise that that poses a challenge to technologies such as wave and tidal that are competing against solar and wind? Such technologies are chasing a number that is always falling faster than they can keep up with.

I do. I was pleased to meet the Marine Energy Council a few days ago. The meeting was supported by a cross-party group of MPs, and we discussed exactly this issue and how, in a cost-effective way, we might look to continue supporting technologies that are further from market.

On Friday children across the country will go on strike, saying they have lost confidence in the Government’s ability to tackle climate change. Does the Minister think these children are wrong, or can she explain to them why the UK is spending £10.5 billion to subsidise fossil fuels—more than any other country in Europe—at the same time as scrapping the solar export tariff and forcing some people to give their surplus solar energy back to the grid for free?

There are a number of inconsistencies in that question, but I think it is incredible what young people across the world are doing. They did the same thing at COP, where we had some compelling statements. Young people expect us to wake up to the reality of the future, which is why I am so proud to stand here and tell them that they live in a country that has led the world in decarbonisation over the last 20 years and is the first major industrial economy to ask for real advice, rather than a few fake words, on how we will get to net zero. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman chunters on about net fossil fuels, but there are no direct subsidies for fossil fuels. I think he is suggesting that we should not have an oil and gas industry in the UK. I would like to see how that plays out with his colleagues north of the border.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment that no small-scale producer should export electricity to the grid for nothing. Will she confirm that as well as applying to solar, that would extend to small-scale hydro?

Yes, that is absolutely correct. I know that my hon. Friend takes an interest in this, so I wish to emphasise that we recognise the value of community energy, which has benefited in many cases from this scheme. If people have the chance to respond to the consultation emphasising the value of that, it would be much appreciated.