Paris climate summit: could the International Solar Alliance prompt a U-turn on UK solar cuts?

2 December 2015 (Last Updated December 2nd, 2015 18:30)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande jointly launched the International Solar Alliance on Monday at the COP21 climate summit. David Cameron has expressed his support for the alliance, but UK solar policies tell a different story. Taylor Heyman investigates.

Paris climate summit: could the International Solar Alliance prompt a U-turn on UK solar cuts?

David Cameron

At the launch of the solar industry alliance on the first day of the Paris COP21 conference, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande announced that 120 countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn will work together towards the goal of clean, affordable and renewable energy for all.

Modi declared India would host the alliance and its work at its National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurgaon and contribute $30m to build a secretariat, as well as supporting the operation of the alliance for five years.

The first alliance steering group meeting also took place this week at COP21. "22 countries took part in the meeting," Dr Ajay Mathur, one of India’s senior negotiators at the summit, told the India Times. "A very large number of concrete suggestions on how to structure this alliance were given by countries. On the basis of this, a draft framework of the alliance will be created and discussed at the next meeting at Abu Dhabi."

Words vs. policy

Leaders from across the world have lauded Modi’s vision, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron. A joint energy statement marking a visit by Prime Minister Modi to the UK in November stated that "Prime Minister Cameron expressed UK support for India’s initiative for an international solar alliance for the promotion of solar technologies and applications".

This statement would appear to contradict the UK government’s policy to reduce the UK solar feed-in-tariffs in January 2016. The changes are tantamount to an 87% cut to revenue for solar-deploying homes and 82% for commercial enterprises.

The UK solar Industry is hoping the launch of the alliance may lead to a rethink on the planned cuts. Solar Trade Association (STA) spokesperson Sonia Dunlop says: "We hope David Cameron will go to Paris, realise how solar PV really is the game-changer in terms of the global energy transformation and be inspired, come home and decide to not cut the solar feed-in-tariff (FiT) by 87%".

"Jeremy Corbyn pressed Cameron on the proposed cuts during PMQs in the House of Commons."

The government is not only under pressure from solar businesses. Last week, Jeremy Corbyn pressed Cameron on the proposed cuts during PMQs in the House of Commons. Cameron responded: "When the cost of manufacturing solar panels plummets, as it has, it is right to reduce the subsidy".

A survey by the STA released on Monday found that 576 jobs had been lost in the industry since the cuts were announced in August, on top of the 1,200 jobs lost due to solar businesses shutting down in the wake of the announcements.

However, all is not lost, according to Dunlop: "As we understand it, the decision behind the scenes is being taken now on what to do on the FiT review and how much to cut the subsidies for solar and other technologies. There is still time for progress or otherwise in Paris to influence the decision that’s being taken here in London."