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Thoughts on Copenhagen: Jeremy Leggett

International collaboration is  needed to give the right backing to existing advancements in solar power, says Jeremy Leggett

Only a comprehensive international framework will enable a coordinated response to climate change. That is why we have joined the Copenhagen Communiqué, a call to action from businesses across the world.

The problem of climate change is solvable. The policies needed are relatively clear and the costs of transition are manageable, even in the current economic climate. Many of the technologies required are available today; others can be developed if the right incentives are in place.

The 21st century will witness a solar revolution.

The 21st century will witness a solar revolution. Buildings will become power plants in the years ahead, generating their own electricity and heating needs, and often more than they need. While not a magic bullet, solar
is a key survival technology. Governments must help unleash solar’s potential.

We are seeing some excellent progress with European support, particularly with the incentive of strong feed-in tariffs, but we need very much more. The UK needs to commit to an effective feed-in tariff, at least 10p more than the commercially half-hearted one proposed earlier this year. Then it can set an example at COP15.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises solar PV as a key climate change mitigation technology. But international climate policy deliberations and national policy makers have so far assumed that the technology will only be commercialised after 2020.

Buildings will become power plants, generating their own electricity and heat

The post-Kyoto agreement needs to reflect near-term grid parity in many major developed and developing country markets and establish an appropriate framework and policies, which will encourage the more rapid growth of solar PV to 2020.

Our five key messages for COP15 are:

  • Solar PV can be a key part of COP15 solutions. Solar power, which is available at prices competitive with traditional generation in certain markets, such as Italy, continues on a path of dramatic improvements in both price and performance. 
  • Grid-parity prices for solar PV are rapidly making solar a competitive energy and climate solution. Solar PV costs are dropping precipitously, at around 10 per cent in 2009, due to an average annual growth in global demand of 44 per cent over the past ten years.
  • The industry is seeing substantial expansion. Solar PV power plants are rapidly growing in most developed countries, offering a clean, reliable, fast source of electricity, compared to the years needed for costly conventional power plants.
  • As well as carbon reductions, solar power hedges against the rising costs of traditional fuels, helps combat fuel poverty and creates green jobs.
  • The one thing we do not have is time. Delay is not an option.

Jeremy Leggett is executive chairman of Solarcentury

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