Solar energy: cheap, green and popular—so why doesn't the government like it?

Green energy: Britain's bad example

Britain cannot cleanse the air alone—but it can lead by example
November 12, 2018

It’s hard to know what to make of Britain’s policy on carbon emissions. Only recently, the government helped to bring about a real success in the cleanest energy of all—solar. The technology became cheaper due to the mass production of photo-voltaic cells, and UK energy market reforms made solar even more economical.  

But then last year, the government announced it was changing policy to make solar energy more expensive. It seemed a completely inexplicable act, especially for a government that has for years now used “green” as a verb. No Cameronite husky-hugging here. In the October budget, the chancellor Philip Hammond didn’t mention the environment once. 

The minister at the department responsible for energy points out in this month's issue of Prospect that the government is investing in new battery technology, which is welcome. Britain has been nimble at pushing ahead with research into new technologies, especially lithium ion batteries, the kind used in electric vehicles. 

But as the shadow energy minister points out, also in this month's issue, the government has cancelled more than just the favourable tariff rates for solar energy. It has also called off two carbon capture and storage projects as well as the proposed Swansea Tidal Lagoon (while doggedly pressing on with the cash sink that is Hinkley Point C).

It’s important to be realistic when talking about Britain’s contribution to global environmental policy. Alongside the enormous dirty polluters like the US and China we are relatively small beer. It’s welcome that, as the minister writes in her piece, Britain managed to go without burning any coal for two months of this year. But really it is China and the US that need to stop burning coal if we want to check the catastrophic advance of global warming. 

That’s what makes the government’s cancellation of these forward-thinking projects so lamentable. Britain cannot cleanse the air single-handed—but it can lead by example. In shuttering these projects, especially the tidal lagoon, it has given up the chance to do so.