This is worth a look in terms of the cost of renewable subsidies and the effects on energy bills. http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/newsdesk/energy/data/infographic-what-puts-your-energy-bill
Basically it's pretty minimal in its effect.
It's a pretty useful graphic actually. The FIT is not a significant financial burden over a year, and never was. As the government continues to lower the FIT (theoretically) in line with reducing solar installation costs, it becomes even less so.
However, the point is not so much the inequality generated by the FIT's upward impact on low-income bills (though there is a minimal amount). Instead, the point is that the FIT regime prevents those on low-incomes accessing the subsidy in the first place, as they lack the investment capital necessary to purchase a solar PV system. Investing in solar panels can be looked at as a 25yr long bulk purchase of cut-price electricity (becoming better and better value as energy prices increase while your FIT payments remain frozen). Thus, those on lower-incomes do not have access to the advantage of being able to bulk buy at cut price in advance of price rises.
Two inequalities are generated by this process: financial inequality and energy inequality. Financial inequality is generated (or worsened) because richer households can begin to access cheaper energy, thus spending less on bills (unless they increase their overall consumption). Poorer households cannot, and thus continue to spend more, despite energy costs already being a larger proportion of their overall income.
Energy inequality is created when vulnerability to energy price rises begins to impinge on the amount of energy a low-income household can afford to purchase, in contrast to a richer household with a PV system which is: 1) initially more affluent, 2) spending less on energy per unit, 3) better protected against price rises, as a proportion of their energy supply is domestically produced. So financial and energy inequality interact to put lower-income households at a disadvantage.
Back to the graph: which factor is driving price rises most? The cost price of gas for the utilities companies. There is no good reason to think this trend will reverse, as extraction becomes more and more expensive and controversial. So the graph reinforces our need to enable low income households to access renewables at least as easily as more affluent groups.
While obviously renewable subsidies are crucial, this graph does perhaps more to undermine the case for the FIT regime than it does to support it.
What do you reckon?
It is, presumably, very important to remember that the vast majority of those defined as 'low income' do not and will not own their own home which perhaps worsens this inequality. Do local authorities/housing associations qualify for Feed-in Tariffs?
I think what I fail to see is a viable solution to stimulating the demand for solar panels other than incentivising those with capital (the well off) from investing. Not like the government are gonna do it.
1) Should the FIT be scapped?
2) What would replace it?
In an ideal world my inkling is yes to 1) and a big state investment in solar for housing associations and council properties.
In the meantime do we accept the inequality in light of the greater evil of climate change?
It's a very good point about low income households not owning their own homes. This makes it even harder for those households to access solar panels. Their only real option is to pressure their landlords or local authorities to install them, there being of course no guarantee they will be listened to.
Furthermore, it is the owner (whether private or local authority) of the building to whom the Feed-in Tariff payments accrue, so while the tenants would face lower bills due to lower consumption (from the grid), they would still be paying the same price per unit overall (i.e. they still do not access the 'bulk-buying' benefit). This still leaves them more vulnerable to price rises than compared to richer households, and therefore the victims of energy inequality.
In answer to your questions:
Yes, it should be, if a subsidy regime that opened up solar to all was implemented in its place. Not an enormous amount is gained from scrapping it to be replaced by nothing. This benefits neither the richer or poorer households. However, there is much evidence to suggest that inequality in itself contributes to a wide array of social ills. On this basis, you would have to weigh up the ability of PV to counter climate change against the corrosive effects of inequality within societies to decide whether the Feed-in Tariffs should continue.
It seems to me that social housing (council or non-profit Housing Associations) would pass on profits from FITs to tenants (or taxpayers) so that could be a good solution. No way that private landlords would do this.
I still feel like all of this needs thrashing out and that some good quality suggestions are needed before abolishing FITs. How would a subsidy regime open to all work? I guess the government could just buy people solar panels.
All of this in the context of solar panels not even being that good is somewhat dispiriting.
You may well be right about social housing, and there are some innovative community solar FIT schemes up and running, such as the Bristol Energy Co-op.
How exactly a subsidy regime 'open to all' could work does need some serious thought, as a starting point it would not be able to exclude those with less capital, so it would require financial assistance of some kind that all could access, probably on a sliding scale.
However, underlying all of this is the need to simply use less energy. The better we become at lowering our demand, the easier it becomes to provide for all in the first place. This is the real challenge.