Speech

Doing solar business in the UK

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Gregory Barker, Minister of State, to the Intersolar Conference.

Introduction

Pleasure to be here in Intersolar, one of the biggest solar conferences in the world…

…1500 exhibitors, 50,000 visitors.

Apt also to be in Germany, a huge solar market. A huge 32GW deployed to date.

Germany made huge leaps forward in the last decade and now enjoys extraordinary levels of deployed solar power. There is much we can learn from her experience.

But I want to leave you with one simple message from my speech:

Great Britain is now the most exciting growth market for solar in Europe.

And there are three prime reasons why the UK should be the destination of choice for any solar company looking to invest in Europe:

  1. First, our UK domestic market has the greatest growth potential in the EU
  2. Second, the UK has a reformed, robust and fully-financed support framework for renewables, set all the way to 2020 and beyond
  3. And third, we are an emerging global hub for advanced manufacturing

Let me take those in turn.

But before I do so, let me set the context.

The UK was the first country in the world to pass binding legislation through our national parliament to enshrine in law, our commitment to tackle dangerous man-made climate change. We have legislated to unilaterally reduce CO2 emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

To achieve this, the UK Government is totally committed to building a world-class renewables industry.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron restated this historic commitment. He said:

“When I became Prime Minister I said I wanted Britain to have the greenest government ever. I am as committed to that today as I was then. But I want to go further”.

He was also crystal clear what he meant by ‘go further’. He said he wants to

‘make Britain a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency’

And:

‘one of the best places for green energy, green investment, and crucially for green jobs anywhere in the world’.

Let there be no doubt. Affordable, scaleable, and reliable solar power is at the heart of that vision.

We understand that a large, growing industry like solar can help us meet multiple goals:

  • Keep the lights on…
  • Create new jobs for our people…
  • Support export industries as well as growth in the domestic economy…
  • Crucially, reduce our own carbon emissions…

And my job today is to tell you how we are going about supporting that.

Growth

Britain’s solar industry is growing at an enormous pace.

From almost no deployment in 2010, we now have 2.5GW of solar capacity across the UK.

This puts us firmly in the top 10 markets around the world. And unlike more mature markets around Europe, we have much, much, much further to go.

If we can continue to work together with industry to drive down costs, the UK government estimates that we have the potential to deploy a staggering total of 20GW by 2020. That’s 17.5GW more than we have today.

But such an ambitious target can only be met through a whole range of ways…

…from large solar arrays on brownfield land or industrial sites in Cornwall

…to huge building integrated projects such as the state-of-the-art 5MW installation on the Bentley factory in Crewe

…or the large project on the former Royal Air Force airfield in Wymeswold in Leicestershire

…right down to thousands of schools, hospitals, community buildings up and down the country

…and, perhaps most excitingly, hundreds of thousands of individual households, now changing their whole relationship with the electricity markets.

This heroic level of deployment is a tribute to the hard work, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the British solar industry. But also I hope the new and genuine partnership with the UK Government.

We also have a robust framework of long term financial support in place

We have the supplier Renewables Obligation which provides support for medium to large scale solar…

Our Feed in Tariff system, now reformed and affordable, offers good returns for small-scale solar installations for households and small companies…

We have a Renewable Heat Incentive to subsidise the cost of solar thermal, a world-first…

Just last December we announced that solar power is one of the Government’s priority industries in our Renewables Roadmap…

In January we launched another world-first: the Green Deal. This groundbreaking and innovative scheme will create a new market for millions of people to improve the energy efficiency of their home with no up-front payment, but paid through expected savings in their energy bills. It also provides a great opportunity to fit Microgeneration technology, like solar panels.

In addition we are currently setting up a Solar Strategy Group bringing industry and government together to tackle barriers to further deployment…

And later this year I will launch the UK’s first-ever Government led Solar Strategy.

But it is not just about Government. The solar industry in the UK has also supported strong growth, with an active lobby which keeps Government – and me in particular – on our toes…

And earlier this year they opened our first ever National Solar Centre, which will identify opportunities to help the solar industry deploy further, faster, and cheaper.

Stability

All of this is important. But I know that it is not enough.

If we are to achieve my ambition is to have 20 GW of solar deployed in the UK by 2020, it means that we need one additional special factor.

And that is stability.

As someone formerly from the private sector myself, I understand that you, as investors, think in terms of years and decades rather than weeks and months.

That is why my Government is committed to delivering you the stability you need.

We already have many of the right ingredients for this:

  • Public support. Our most recent survey shows solar enjoys over 80% public approval ratings. This is higher than any other renewable technology.

  • Cross-party support. The current Opposition supports solar power – indeed, some of our policies such as the Feed in Tariff were introduced by Ed Miliband, current Leader of the Opposition, when he was Secretary of State for Energy in the last administration.

  • The right skills. We have world-class universities. Some of these, such as Imperial and Loughborough, have globally recognised solar PV research and expertise.

  • Good financial support. The UK has the lowest low corporation tax rate of all the major European economies. And in David Cameron’s Coalition you have a Government committed to supporting business and industry. And then you have the City of London and its multibillion pound financial services industry, global leaders in funding innovation and sunrise industries.

Additionally we are taking advantage of our stable environment to enact policies which will bring even more stability for international investors.

We have agreed across Government to provide a huge £7.6bn per year by 2020 of targeted subsidy to support renewables deployment in Britain. A clear demonstration of the UK putting its money where its mouth is.

Global hub

There is one final point I’d like to stress in my speech.

And that is that Britain is a global hub for advanced manufacturing.

We stand at the centre of many international networks:

  • The European Union
  • A strong transatlantic alliance with the US
  • Historical and cultural links with the Commonwealth

All this makes Britain a natural destination for investment from firms looking to ‘go global’.

But I would add three critical factors.

First, we recognise that we are in a global race, and that open, innovative, free-trading pro-business nations are the ones most likely to prosper.

Our entire Government philosophy is focused on succeeding in that global race. Government and private sector; one team, one ambition.

Second, I am travelling the world committed to making Britain a hub for global solar firms.

I visited East Africa last year with the largest-ever green trade mission, to scour that part of the continent for opportunities to invest in the budding African solar sector.

And I hope to visit Saudi Arabia later this year, to see how Britain and British firms can help that country meet its noble ambitions to scale up its solar capacity.

And finally, Britain – perhaps more than anyone else in the EU – stands for free trade and global competition.

We have always done so, and will always continue to do so.

That is why we have led the fight against the imposition of damaging and counterproductive anti-dumping EU levies on imports of Chinese solar panels. In my view a totally counterproductive and retrograde action.

And that is why you can be sure that an investment in Britain will bear rewards, now and in the future.

Conclusion

I hope I have left you in no doubt about our commitment in the UK to solar power.

But in case I have, let me stress once more the main point.

No country in the EU is better-placed for growth and new solar deployment than the UK….

…When 2 years ago we reformed our Feed in Tariffs, we did so not to undermine the industry, but because we saw falling solar panel prices as an opportunity not a threat.

No country has more potential for future solar deployment…

…Our stated ambitions mean that we have over 17GW of solar to deploy in the next seven years.

And no country has a better mix of ingredients to support the solar industry…

So talk to our solar industry reps here; pay us a visit; come and talk to us; invest in Britain.

It will be worth your while.

Join with the UK government, your partner in growth.