As the UK government attempts to limit local democracy in the UK to force through fracking, and goes cap in hand to the Chinese to enable its nuclear ambitions, it seems the Americans have done a U-turn – apparently, solar and wind power are surging forward as shale gas and coal falter. It seems that the reasons for this are improving technology and cheaper financing, which are driving down costs, and also the current crash in fossil fuel prices. Onshore wind and solar are becoming competitive, with one solar power purchase agreement in Texas actually undercutting fossil fuels with the aid of federal subsidies. Texas is the leader when it comes to wind power, with 10 per cent of its energy now derived from wind, and California, Nevada and North Carolina lead in the solar stakes. Solar is also set to expand even further as the current industry base of providing rooftop solar panels is set to give way to large-scale utility projects.
However, this growing success does face a degree of uncertainty, as, in common with our own renewables industry, the US government is contemplating removing state aid, with federal solar tax credit set to expire in 2016, and an ongoing debate about the future of wind tax credit. Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association is, however, optimistic, saying: “The support we have on Capitol Hill is significant and enduring.” With the rapid development of technology in what are still fledgling industries, and the reduced volatility of wind and sun compared to the global markets, totalitarian regimes and bleak prospects that rule the future of fossil fuels, that support makes great sense. Sadly, however, Kiernan’s optimism is absent in our own renewables industry. Three major UK businesses have gone under in recent weeks and a solar power company backed by Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, has pulled out of the UK market, all due to recent cutbacks in subsidies to the industry, which could cost the country 27,000 jobs. Does our government perhaps need the cash to pay the excessive charges it has negotiated with the Chinese for future nuclear power generation?