Monday, March 26, 2012

UK Solar industry predicts 1GW of installations in the next year

ground-mounted solar farm in the UK
We're going to see a lot more of these in the UK.

The UK solar industry now sees a bright future for itself following last Friday's decision by the Supreme Court to refuse the Government permission to appeal on the ruling that solar PV installations registered after December 12 last year and before March 3 this year could qualify for the 43.3p kWh subsidy rather than the 21p rate the Government tried to enforce.

Many companies have plans for large-scale solar in particular because they see new possibilities from the Renewables Obligation Certification scheme (ROCs), which gives two ROCs for each MWh for schemes over 5MW, and under which there is no size limit.

There is even talk of solar farms as large as those found in Europe, up to even 40MW in size, in the south of England. One player predicts 1GW of plant installed in the UK over the next year.

Emma Hughes of Solar power Portal says that "now that the feed-in tariff fiasco has reached a conclusion many are looking forward to working in the UK solar industry in 2012, especially now there is opportunity under the Renewables Obligation."

REC Solar, Canadian Solar, Q-Cells and many others are all of the opinion that if the component prices decline as expected, and energy bills continue to rise, opportunities for ground-mounted solar to become cost-effective will increase.

REC Solar is hoping to double its capacity this year by installing approximately 60MW, a large proportion of which will be ground mounted.


At the domestic and business consumer level, more than anything else the government has done, the installation of panels on so many roofs across the country has got people talking about energy and its importance.

All over the country this weekend, owners of homes who had installed green equipment or upgrades threw open their doors for visitors interested in doing eco-refits themselves.

Besides solar PV systems, visitors to the 'green showhomes' on these tours saw every type of upgrade from simple insulation and draught proofing measures to complete overhauls and rebuilds, involving many types of green heating from woodchip fired boilers to solar water heating systems, and even in one case, a tank which combined four different kinds of heating.

Many of those on the tours had had their interest in the subject first aroused by seeing solar panels on neighbours roofs.

This indicates that a chief aim of government policy has succeeded: increasing public awareness in energy matters, even though investment in photovoltaic technology in this country is not cost-effective at the level of subsidy initially set by the feed in tariffs.

But although many of the thousands of people on these tours knew about the Feed-in Tariffs, a high level of ignorance was revealed about the follow-up schemes, the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Green Deal, indicating the huge amount of work that the Government yet has to do to publicise these initiatives.

The 'Superhomes' tours were organised by volunteers in many towns and cities in England and Wales, either by the network members themselves, or local Transition Towns groups.

Several were oversubscribed, indicating the increased popularity of the subject, further evidence of which was the changed nature of last week's Ecobuild exhibition in London, which was far more upbeat, corporate and mainstream than it had been in previous years, with much floor space taken up by solar and heat pump installers.

Speaking at the Ecobuild exhibition, Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker said: “This is an aspirational agenda. We know people are always looking to improve their home even in times of austerity. It’s part of the British DNA.”

John Gaffney, who organised a tour in and around Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, said “many of the homes we have seen this weekend who have solar photovoltaic panels installed still think it is worth the investment even with the reduced tariff."

“It seems so complicated from the outside, knowing what to do," said one of the super homes tourists, Peter Jones of Llangadog, "But seeing what other people have already done is a terrific help in getting ideas about what is possible in your own circumstances."

A highlight of this tour was a home which had both water and space heating supplied by both a ground source heat pump and solar water heating panels, with the electricity for the pumps supplied by photovoltaic solar panels supported by FITs. “We generate more energy than we need, so we are still actually paid by the energy supplier after we have used all the energy ourselves," said owner Caroline Langdon.

Green Deal red tape removed

Last week, Greg Barker sought to remove doubts that the Green Deal implementation would be delayed, but did say there will be a “managed” roll-out of the scheme, meaning that some aspects will launch before others, chief of which may be the Energy Company Obligation, which is simpler to arrange.

He said that the Government would be responding to the Green Deal consultation in April and secondary legislation would appear “by summer recess”.

"This doesn't affect the planned October launch,” he said.

He told attendees to the exhibition that red tape was being removed from those who wanted to become accredited installers, including the requirements to have a surety bond in place prior to being authorised; to hold warranties for the 25 year length of the plan when they were longer than standard industry warranties, e.g. for boilers,; and the requirement that installers pay for an Independent Conciliation Service.

Instead, a new Green Deal Ombudsman capable of handling complaints will be appointed.

"Remove stamp duty"

UK Green Building Council chief Paul King has called the Government’s handling of the solar FITs “catastrophic” and said it is now crucial that the Government instills confidence in businesses preparing for the Green Deal.

This weekend, many visitors on the superhomes tours expressed fears that if they invested in renewable heat systems that the tariff rate for these would be reduced in the future. Many appeared unaware that tariff rate reductions did not affect those whose installations had met the deadlines.

In this respect the public perception arising from the solar FITs fiasco has been extremely damaging.

To rebuild confidence, and create more publicity, Paul King has called on the Government to link the Green Deal with stamp duty and council tax, making less energy efficient homes pay more through the tax system.

He said it didn't matter if the implementation of the Green Deal was delayed if it meant that its integrity would be preserved and the fine detail was in place and did not have to be amended subsequently.

He said: “I would much rather delay it rather than go and blunder it as it will take 10 years to get it out of the public consciousness.

Collective energy purchasing

In a further bid to engage consumers with energy purchasing, today, Ed Davey has written to all of the energy suppliers asking them to support collective purchasing schemes as another way of helping householders engage easily with the electricity market and bring prices down.

He wrote: "I want to make it easier for consumers to club together and use their collective purchasing power to engage with the market and to get good deals on their gas and electricity."

This was a key part of the Consumer Empowerment Strategy that Ed Davey launched as a Minister in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills last year.

He said particular you want to see schemes that reached out to “include more vulnerable customers and people who don't shop around for their gas and electricity".

The purpose of the letter is to encourage all energy suppliers to engage with these organisations on their ideas.

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