Solar incentives and grants in California and the United Kingdom

The State of California is about the same size, in numbers and in terms of GDP, as the United Kingdom. Genersys has businesses in both places. I know that the economy in both places is far from perfect, and that people need jobs and confidence. I should also compare and contrast California and the United Kingdom in terms of their environmental impact. Which place is doing more for the environment?

The United Kingdom is led by Gordon Brown. As I mentioned yesterday, he seems to think that his action to fight climate change – the Climate Change Act, is world leading, but he would find it hard to find someone outside his own Government to express that view. California is led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former actor of Austrian descent who has taken to politics well. I think generally when he was elected many British thought that Mr Schwarzenegger was just another actor, but he has proved to be effective as a leader in California. Not everyone may agree with him or vote for him; he is a Republican, generally thought of in Europe as a right winger, but is environmental record is better than Gordon Brown who is a socialist.

If we descend into particulars you will see what I mean and I shall descend into the particulars of my own business – that of solar heating. Conditions for solar heating are better in California than they are in the United Kingdom. That said, conditions in both places are such that solar water heating is very worthwhile on environmental grounds as well as on financial grounds.  In both places solar water heating systems save money, pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide.

The United Kingdom has several solar water heating incentive schemes. The best incentives are to be found in Scotland; obviously our rulers consider the English and Welsh to be unworthy of decent incentives. There householders can get an incentive of £400 ($600)for a solar system from the government but the incentive (called a “grant” in the UK) is surrounded by conditions. These conditions do not relate to solar water heating but stray into such curious areas as insulation and low energy lighting and can often cost more than the £400.

In the United Kingdom there is also a grant of 50% of the costs, but this is only available for non profit organisations. This grant is administered by the Building Research Establishment and it strikes me that there is a conflict of interest between their role in certifying building matters and materials and installers and dishing out grants. In any event there are complaints that for some reason money is very slow in being awarded to applicants. The limit here is £200,000 ($300,000).

From 1st May California will have a much more effective incentive system for solar systems than the UK. Californian homeowners can get $1875 incentive (£1300) if they displace gas energy with their solar system and $1250 (£800) if they displace an electric system. The reason for the differentials is that the Californians have figured out that displacing electricity will save consumers more money than displacing gas, which is cheaper, and this is their way of balancing things so that both sets of homeowners can save similar amounts of money.

California also has an incentive system for owners of larger buildings. Here the incentives can be up to $500,000 (£300,000). They do not have to be non profit organisations. Indeed, it is better to direct the incentive at everyone so that savings can be maximised. Non profits will have more difficulty raising the other 50%.

Finally, all these incentives are well and good, but how much money has California and the United Kingdom allocated to solar thermal system incentives?

The United Kingdom has had a pot of £30 million ($50 million) covering all technologies for the large scale incentives. £12 million of this has been allocated to photovoltaics leaving £18 million for small scale turbines, heat pumps solar systems and other similar renewable energy creators. Solar thermal is by far the most popular of these so it would probably get around 70% of this pot. For smaller households the incentive in England and Wales comes from a £2 million pot, which will be closed in March 2010. It probably will not make too much difference to the industry because few apply for the grant.

In California under the Republican policies of Mr Schwarzenegger the incentive pot is $350 million – around £200 million.

The incentives in California for most renewable energy technologies are very similar to those for solar water heating. In England the most generous incentive for householders is £1500 for a wood fuelled boiler, which will create enormous amounts of emissions over its lifetime. It is very odd and eccentric to reward people for installing highly polluting and carbon dioxide emitting technologies isn’t it?

So, on this basis is California or the United Kingdom leading the world on carbon emission savings? That is a rhetorical question; I do not need to answer it but mischievously, if this were a football match:-

Final Score

California 100 England 0; match abandoned after twenty minutes.

4 Responses

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  3. Robert

    I’m no real expert on alternatives but I do know that most photvoltaics are really a waste of time and money, wind is the same, when you need it its never there, the coldest and the hottest times of year the wind simply doesn’t blow hard enough to be of any use.

    If was going to spend my money on any alternative it would be Solar water every time its definately the most efficient of the three, energy or heat can be stored at relatively low cost in the tank for when its needed, what am I saying you already know this Heh.

    A friend of mine has a solar system only four suare meters facing east west and all of last year the water was hot enough to shower with and on the hotter days burn your hands as I soon found out one day after lunch, he never used the electric once and that’s in the colder part of northern England, its quite an old system and not as good as the ones you sell.

    A wood stove running on timber is actually carbon neutral because the fuel one burns has already been stored away from carbon itself, to renew you simply plant more trees, a solid fuel AGA for instance does more than one use too, we had one for over 20 years and it gave us everything we needed, hot water 24-7 no matter what the weather or time of year, baking cooking and central heating if we wanted it and the drying of cloths above it when we weren’t cooking all from timber, no need for coal or electric.

    I have just set an alternative skills forum, if you want a free add just let me know and its done.

  4. It must be remembered that these grants are not freebies from the government. Each and every last grant that is awarded must serve a particular use. They are given to provide aid to a country’s people in general. There are detailed obligations the grantor must adhere to in order to receive and keep the grant.

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