The number of people employed in the solar industry has soared to 25,000 since the launch of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), according to figures released by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and reported by GreenWise.
Analysis carried out by REA shows the number of people working in the UK solar power sector has jumped by 22,000 to 25,000 over the last 18 months and could reach 32,000 by April 2012. The REA said the solar jobs figures were a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic outlook and underlined the success of the FiT.
"There are very few other industries creating this level of jobs and UK plc needs these jobs," REA Technical director, Stuart Pocock said. "It proves the FiT is a policy success and the UK Government needs to start talking about it."
The Government launched the FiT in April 2010 to kick-start renewable energy generation in the UK. The FiT guarantees an inflation-linked income for on-site renewable electricity projects less than five megawatts in size for a period of up to 25 years.
The REA jobs figures were drawn from the REAL Assurance Scheme and the REA said were likely to under-estimate the real number of jobs in solar. The REAL Assurance Scheme Consumer Code is a standard protecting consumers wishing to buy or lease small-scale energy generation systems for their homes.
Its members are mostly made up of domestic solar installers, not commercial ones. Solar manufacturing and supporting jobs, such as legal, accounting and project development, are also not reflected by the scheme.
The data shows there are now 4,000 solar companies registered with REAL in the UK. At the current rate of registrations, REA said, there could be 7,000 further jobs added to the solar installation industry by April 2012. In addition to installation companies, REA said there were over 60 companies working in the solar manufacturing supply chain and six solar manufacturing and assembly plants in UK.
Solar has proved to be the most popular technology under the FIT scheme with 81,000 UK homes now benefiting from it. The market, however, is now facing a capacity problem because installations are running ahead of the FiT budget, Pocock said. "We need a review of the tariff now," he said. "We don’t want the Government to have a knee-jerk reaction to installations."
Because of concerns over the solar boom, this summer the Government reduced FiT tariff rates by up to 70 per cent for photovoltaic systems over 50 kilowatt (kW) in size. The REA and the Solar Trade Association have been lobbying for a 25 per cent cut in tariffs across the board to reduce capital costs without strangling investment.
Pocock said: "Solar is rapidly creating jobs while greening UK homes and offices, and reducing energy bills. We want to see more ambition and vision from Government to sustain these jobs and secure big new solar manufacturing opportunities in the UK, with huge export potential."
The REA and STA are urging the Government to strengthen the UK’s position in the booming global solar market by increasing investment and establishing a clear pathway to grid parity. They point to a solar roofing system developed by Kingspan and solar-powered electric vehicle charging canopies as the sort of innovations that, with the right Government incentives, could provide export potential. However, REA said plans by Kingspan to manufacture its solar roofing system and potentially create over 1000 jobs by the end of this Parliament, have been affected by the sharp cuts to solar FITs.
"Not only can this technology deliver the jobs and green buildings we need today, but costs are falling faster than any other energy generation technology in the world. So by investing in UK solar jobs and companies today, UK companies can deliver a subsidy-free solar revolution to millions of consumers tomorrow."