Solarcentury boss slams Carbon Trust report

One of the UK's leading renewable energy experts has today accused the Carbon Trust of undermining the success of the UK's solar industry.

Jeremy Leggett's comments came after the organisation released a report calling on the government to focus financial support for renewable energy on offshore wind and marine energy developments.

The outspoken executive chairman of Solarcentury and former member of the government's Renewables Advisory Board, said that the Carbon Trust report was both "misleading" and "unhelpful", arguing that if followed, its recommendation would fail to deliver the full-scale decarbonisation of energy supplies that is required.

The Carbon Trust report, which was released yesterday with backing from a wide range of environmental and business organisations, calls on the government to end its policy of offering " technology-neutral" backing for renewable energy. It wants it to instead adopt a more selective approach that increases funding for "prioritised technologies" in the form of offshore wind and marine energy.

The report says that such a shift in policy would deliver a £70bn economic boost and almost quarter of a million jobs by 2050.

Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay said that the government "must prioritise and comprehensively back the technologies that offer the best chance of securing long-term carbon savings, jobs and revenue for Britain" as part of its forthcoming renewable energy strategy.

However, Leggett warned that this approach of "picking winners" would also require the government to "start picking losers", effectively making it harder for the UK economy to develop the broad energy mix it needs to deliver deep cuts in carbon emissions.

"Picking technologies at the expense of others has the drawback that you miss the benefits of a combination approach," he said. "At the moment, the UK has deployed only one eighth of the solar capacity that Belgium has installed and the majority of developed countries are years ahead of the UK in solar. Bizarrely, the Carbon Trust report fails to not only recognise this, but to even consider any other renewable electricity or heat technology other than offshore wind, wave and fuel-cell CHP."

He also said the report's statement that solar technologies were costly and not available to be deployed on a large scale was misleading. "This is a very out-dated view," he argued. "Solar costs have fallen by up to 20 per cent this year and… will reach grid parity level by 2013 on current trends in the UK. The government's own consultants suggest the imminent feed-in tariff could deliver over 18TWh per year from solar power by 2020 from the non-domestic building sector alone, a greater contribution than the proposed Severn tidal barrage."

In addition, Leggett challenged the view that offshore wind and marine energy offered the greatest economic returns on the UK government's investment, arguing that solar energy offered a higher level of job creation than other forms of renewables.

However, Paul Arwas, one of the report authors, said that Leggett's criticisms were based on misconception.

He said that the authors had selected six different types of clean technology - offshore wind, wave energy, solid-state lighting, one type of biofuel, fuel cell combined heat and power systems, and flow cell energy storage devices - in order to illustrate the economic impact of providing financial support for the clean tech sector.

"There is nothing nefarious about why we analysed some technologies aand not others," he said. "We do argue the UK should have a framework for prioritising some technologies, but we are not saying we have provided that framework."

He also argued that the concept of technology prioritisation did not equate to "picking winners". "In the 1970s the government gave money direct to specific companies to build specific technologies, and that was not particularly effective," he said. "We are not advocating a return to that approach, but rather the development of framework that supports the technologies that could provide the most benefit."

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