Solar panels Photo: US Navy

Small business and householders left behind by new renewable energy scheme

September 22nd, 2017

After a long wait, solar technology is finally set to receive state support through the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

However, the scheme is set to leave out support for micro-scale generation, meaning that small business and householders are set to miss out on a chance to contribute to increasing green energy in Ireland and gain a small financial benefit at the same time.

The government has said that it ruled out supporting small and microscale generation as it will not make a significant enough contribution to meet our 2020 renewable energy target of 16 per cent.

Moreover, the Government said that it is leaving out micro-scale generation as it is “more cost effective” to focus on medium and large scale projects.

However, we know from experience in mainland Europe that fears of increasing grid cost are largely unfounded.

A new report from Friends of the Earth Ireland, written by the esteemed climate economist, Joseph Curtin, also points out that if we restrict rooftop solar to 50,000 rooftops up to 2030, the additional cost to the Public Services Obligation (PSO) would be relatively insignificant.

Solar panels at Seldom Rest Farms Photo: US Department of Agriculture

 “Endless” possibilities for farmers

One area where a micro-generation scheme could find good use is on the farm. According to Michael Quirk, a Cork-based farmer involved in solar, the possibilities from a farming perspective are “endless”.

Although he is looking to set-up a small solar farm, Mr Quirk encourages farmers to also install rooftop panels on the likes of milking parlours and storage sheds.

“You take the dairy farmer. If he was incentivized to put panels on the rooftop of his cowshed and cool his milk and export the excess of his power, he would do it in a heartbeat,” he added.

One successful example is O’Shea Farm in Co. Tipperary, which installed over 1,000 solar panels in 2015 with the help of a grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

According to Tommy O’Shea, over 10 per cent of the family-run potato farm’s electricity needs are now coming from solar. Mr O’Shea adds that the project is reducing both running costs and the farm’s carbon footprint, and should provide them with sustainably-produced electricity for up to 30 years.

From consumer to “prosumer”

The panels were installed by leading rooftop solar company, Solar Electric, whose Director Robert Goss stresses the urgency of bringing in some form of support for micro-generation.

The SEAI is set to hold a workshop on 17 October 2017 to look into developing a separate policy for small and micro-scale generation, although Mr Goss says that we should “get started as soon as possible”.

According to Mr Goss, even a small fixed grant or export tariff would “unleash millions in private investment in energy generation”.

Originally from England, he witnessed the explosion of the solar energy market in UK around 2010, where he says business and consumer behaviour was “driven by confidence in the technology”.

He says, however, that without support for micro-generation and other restrictions such as the need for planning permission over a certain size, it will be difficult for rooftop solar to get off the ground.

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