Departing Newman fires final salvo

Former Solarcentury chief executive, Derry Newman, has launched a parting shot at the UK’s largest energy firms for their reluctance to embrace renewable electricity generation

The 54-year-old, who stepped down in April to spend more time with his wife and children, has been candid in his criticism of the UK’s major energy suppliers for ‘fighting’ the growing financial and moral case for renewable technology whilst maintaining the status quo of large scale fossil fuel consumption.

“They are not thinking forward but there will come a tipping point where energy companies will realise that renewables are not going away,” said Newman. “They will eventually stop fighting it like the tobacco companies used to resist medical reports about the effects of smoking.

“When we reach grid parity, renewable energy will be a no-brainer. Renewables will become a big part of the energy industry and will grow and grow. In sunnier climbs they are already there such as in Italy where there is no subsidy at all. It will happen in the UK too, like a line of latitude that is steadily moving north across Europe – an unstoppable wave.

“Installers are still in pioneer territory as one of the few industries still subject to random government intervention. We are also still dealing with a public who is uncertain and an incumbent energy industry.

“Those battles for a small British industry to take on are not trivial and my hat goes off to those who continue to weather those storms.”

One of the most significant developments to occur during Newman’s time at the helm of Solarcentury was the company’s high profile decision to take the government to court over its plans to halve Feed-in Tariff (FiT) payments before the end of the official consultation period in December. This ongoing legal row has left him with a mixture of pride and regret, he said, when looking back at his five tenure.

He said: “The court case was a sad episode. We did not oppose the new level of FiT, just the way it was being implemented. It was with great reluctance as renewable energy companies obviously don’t want to spend money on lawyers when it should be spent on innovations and new products.

“I had a letter from a 77-year-old pensioner. His PV installation became MCS certified on December 14 and so he thought he had lost out on the higher tariff. Here was an example of somebody trying to do the right thing and being let down by the government, which is why we went to court.

“I do think that the appeal was a sad waste of taxpayers’ money. FiT will be here for a few more years yet and the industry will still develop but not grow like it might have done.”

Finally, looking ahead to the future, Newman added: “My decision to retire was a very personal one. My wife has a medical condition and looking after her is not compatible with the things a ceo has to do. I have to be active internationally and I cannot reconcile that with my family or my role at Solarcentury.

“As for my future plans, Solarcentury started up Solar Aid in 2006 with an ambitious goal to alleviate poverty in Africa by bringing renewable power to some of the world’s poorest people. I will continue to assist them as an advisor on a part-time basis.”