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Calls for solar thermal to remain an RHI technology as wait for government response continues

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A letter signed by over 20 organisations has put pressure on energy and intellectual property minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe to retain solar thermal within the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), as the industry continues to wait for the government’s decision.

The group of signatories, representing the solar industry, local government, manufacturers, housing providers, land owners, and environmental campaigners, have called on Neville-Rolfe to ensure the technology remains eligible for support under the scheme.

It also suggests that the government recognise the diverse applications solar thermal is suited for, including district heating, space heating, industrial process heating and valuable integration with other renewable heating technologies.

“Solar thermal is an internationally proven technology with the potential to play a major role in decarbonising heat in the UK’s domestic and commercial sectors. It is a perfect match for tackling fuel poverty in social housing given its uniquely low running costs. It is also the best heat technology for dense, urban areas where space and air quality may be an issue,” the letter states.

It argues that solar thermal represents “a technology of particular strategic importance” when considering the share of energy use within a building to heat water.

It also cites analysis by IRENA showing that solar thermal technologies could technically provide nearly half of heat demand in the industrial sector, displacing large amounts of carbon in the process.

It has been six months since a consultation proposing reforms that would see solar thermal axed from the scheme was closed. Despite experiencing low take-up the technology has one of highest tariffs under the RHI; a fact which the government argued did not represent value for money.

The decision was widely criticised at the time, with Scottish Renewables claiming the plans were “counterproductive”, would limit opportunities across the board and disproportionately impact the public sector.

Today’s letter claims if the proposal to axe solar thermal was carried out, the technology will be at a competitive disadvantage and “there is every prospect that the current supply chain will atrophy”. It added that the valuable UK skills and manufacturing industry would also be badly affected.

Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said: “The industry was shocked, in March, when the government proposed removing solar thermal from the RHI, whilst retaining support for heat pumps and biomass.

“Now, six months later, the industry is still in limbo as it waits for the government’s response. We are confident that the Solar Trade Association made a compelling case to support solar thermal and hope the government rethinks their proposal. However it is urgent that we get a decision quickly to end this uncertainty.”

The delayed response to its RHI consultation is just one in a string of policy decisions the renewables industry is waiting for in the wake of the Brexit vote and changes to Whitehall departments. As well as reforms to renewable heat subsidies, the industry is also waiting for final decisions on a range of diverse issues, including the overhaul of business energy efficiency taxation, a call for evidence on battery storage technologies, home energy efficiency policy and the future of the EU-led Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme to name a few.

It remains unclear how the transition from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to that of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will affect the former’s policy proposals. However, Baroness Neville-Rolfe has lauded the potential for solar photovoltaics and solar thermal technologies to decarbonise the UK’s businesses.

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