The small scale feed-in tariff in Great Britain : its role in electricity system transition

Mr Jimmy Aldridge, University of Exeter

The feed-in tariff for small-scale low-carbon generation was introduced across GB in April 2010 and has resulted in the deployment of large numbers of solar photovoltaic installations and some increases in wind and hydro installations. The introduction of independently owned decentralised generation to the network marks a significant remove from the characteristics of the incumbent electricity regime based upon centralised, large-scale, long-running, carbon-intensive assets. But the scheme has been marred by a number of changes and reviews resulting from a lack of clarity over the objectives of the scheme, a crash in global module prices and some unforeseen developments within the sector. These changes have rocked the nascent small-scale renewable industry, sharply reducing the number of installations and questioning the UK government’s tolerance for potentially disruptive innovation in the electricity industry.

This paper outlines the short tumultuous history of the feed-in tariff and the reasons for its problems, and it presents empirical analysis based on a set of interviews with stakeholders in the small-scale renewable sector and key actors from the wider electricity regime. It evaluates the wider significance of the scheme for the transition to a sustainable low-carbon electricity system through the use of an analytical framework adapted from the literature on socio-technical system transition. This framework contributes to recent conceptual developments of the multi-level perspective which assess existing policies aimed at stimulating transition. Thus the paper makes an empirical contribution through exploring the success and failures of the feed-in tariff and a theoretical contribution by furthering the use of the multi-level perspective as a framework for policy analysis.

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