Cuts in solar panel subsidies embarrass government at last week’s Clean Energy Ministerial.

The Prime Minister David Cameron last week hosted the Clean Energy Ministerial amidst accusations of hypocrisy by environmental campaigners and the solar panel industry. This is because the conference, which promotes the development of renewable energy, came just weeks after the government cut the subsidy for solar power.

What No 10 had hoped would be a conference that presented the UK as a global leader in green energy was instead an embarrassment for the government; as it came to light that the cut has created a 90% drop in the demand for solar panels. Campaigners fear this will kill of the sector, with 5,000 jobs predicted to be lost as a consequence.

The reason for the sharp drop in demand is that the cut is to the tariff homeowners receive for feeding their solar panels excess energy into the national grid. By halving the amount received per unit of electricity supplied the government have effectively doubled the time it will take for the solar panels to become an economically viable alternative.

While all sides agree that subsidies had to be reduced, as the costs of solar panels continue to drop, the argument was about the speed and scale of the cut, with a 50% reduction in the subsidy viewed as going too far and too fast. The government however has defended the measure saying that the scheme they inherited had become too expensive and that it was energy consumers who would have ultimately suffered.

The chief executive of the Solar Trade Association Paul Barwell said “We’ve seen drops in installation with every policy adjustment, but we expect this one will take a bit more time to pick up.”

“Many householders are aware that government has slashed subsidies, the challenge for us is to make householders aware that’s partly because industry has slashed costs, and partly because solar is so popular. There is no doubt that financially solar remains a great prospect for UK homeowners so there is no good reason why the UK market should stagnate.”

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Nine in ten people want more renewable energy.

Almost nine in ten people want to see the government increase the UK’s production of clean domestic energy and reduce the country’s reliance on imported gas, according to a new YouGov poll.

Currently, only 9.5% of UK electricity comes from renewable energy sources and Friends of the Earth, who had 2,884 people questioned for the survey is concerned the government’s encouragement of gas production (by exempting gas-fired power plants from emissions restrictions) is having a negative effect on the search for greener alternatives to fossil fuels.

With hostility to the locations of wind farms causing political tension concerns are mounting that renewable energy investments are being put on hold, as investors question the degree of political backing for cleaner energy.

This is why Friends of the Earth has called on the prime minister to use his speech at the Clean Energy Ministerial on Thursday 26 April to demonstrate his backing for low-carbon energy.

“The public has given a clear vote of confidence to clean British energy from our wind, sun and sea. It makes no sense for the government to pursue an unwanted, costly dash for gas that’s causing our fuel bills to rocket,” said Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns.

“David Cameron must back Britain by using his speech to kick-start a switch to clean British energy. It’s time to wave goodbye to costly fossil fuels and develop affordable power for the future.”

Friends of the Earth believe the UK’s reliance on domestic renewable sources would not only help reduce co2 emissions, but would also create new green jobs. This is backed by government figures that show that £4bn of investment in renewables last year created nearly 14,000 new jobs.

This week London is host to The Clean Energy Ministerial and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in which international energy ministers will set the agenda for the UN sustainable development conferences which take place later in June and decide how to deliver energy to the world’s poorest people and promote a clean energy future.