The change in the UK government’s energy policy has been blamed for job losses just as solar power eclipses coal in electricity generation.
The solar power industry says it has seen the loss of more than half its 35,000 jobs due to recent changes in government energy policy, just at a time when solar power has surpassed coal as a major generator of Britain’s electricity.
According to Experts, ministers had cut subsidies too far and too fast, praising the “seismic”, record-breaking growth of solar in recent years.
This month, the Solar Cloth Company became the latest to be put into administration, following the liquidation and 170 job losses at Solarlec two weeks ago. The biggest single collapse was late last year when the Mark Group went into administration with almost 1,000 redundancies.
The Solar Trade Association (STA), which represents the industry, said it was collating exact statistics to be published soon but experts believe up to 18,000 jobs have gone in less than 12 months.
Jonathan Selwyn, chairman of the STA, said companies had been “very hard hit” and many were trying to change their business models or concentrate on overseas markets.
He contrasted ministers’ enthusiasm for slashing subsidies for solar with their professed concern for other struggling industrial sectors such as steelmaking. “This [solar] must be the only industrial sector where the government is congratulating itself for causing thousands of job losses,” he said.
But the government said it had a duty to balance jobs with household bills. “Our priority is to keep energy bills as low as possible for families and businesses whilst supporting low-carbon technologies that represent value for money,” said a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
“The cost of solar has steadily declined over the last 10 years and it is right that as this comes down so should the consumer-funded support,” he added.
Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy at University College London, said it was too soon to say whether the solar sector would settle into slower growth or drop away completely.
“Solar has benefited from extraordinarily generous subsidies and no one – including me – expected to see such incredible growth rates. It has been quite seismic for a country that was getting a smidgen of power from renewables only a few years ago. But the cutbacks [in subsidies] have been dramatic and quick.”
Deployment of renewable energy is moving even faster on the continent, with Portugal running its entire electricity network for four days in May entirely on solar, wind and hydropower.