The Solar Future UK 2012 - London

It was a bright and sunny start for the opening of the second Solar Plaza UK conference last Tuesday, held in Westminster Halls. The main question on everyone’s lips was, are we seeing a UK market struggling for survival or just taking off?

Sarah Chambers from the DECC FiT team, outlined her strategy and vision for the feed-in tariff in 2012 and 2013. The UK now uses a contingent digression mechanism whereby FiTs will reduce every 3 months and the extent of the decrease is linked to install volume each quarter. The first reduction is in August with Tariffs starting at 16p/KWh. Sarah talked about an “obsession with the FiT” however the UK is not alone in this. A large amount of the difficulties we face now are due to the unpredictability of FiTs and business models that are largely based on these.

Colin McNaught of REA talked about the success of PV market development in the UK. The domestic sector in the UK represents 75% of capacity and 97% of installs, with surges occurring approximately 6 weeks prior to FiT cuts. Interestingly 12 million cash ISAS were taken out in 2010-11, a staggering £38 billion investment demonstrating the huge potential amongst private households in UK. The ISA market is driven often by tax deadlines and parallels could be drawn with Tariff cuts that motivate in the period immediately before. Colin believes there is hope for the future but there is a real need to re-engage with the public and ensure a consistent and clear message is delivered.  

Anton Milner of IB Vogt GMBH and founder of Q-Cells, referred to the difficult financial challenges ahead, but still believed there is potential for very good steady growth of PV in the UK.  There was much talk of ROCS for large scale plants and the complexity of this subsidy.  The future or ROCs will be decided on July 17th if 2 remain this will give a much needed boost and confidence to the UK PV industry. We are it seems once again at the mercy of the government.

Regionally there are large differences in the UK – London was described as a “solar desert” compared to Sheffield where there was early awareness and the market moved faster. However there is a huge potential in the UK, with 26 million homes of which 4.1 million have suitable markets for EPC and rooftop PV and much of the potential is in cities. Variations on take-up depend on factors such as rental markets and deprivation.

The Key driving message from the day it seemed was that companies need to learn to be agile to survive the present rollercoaster and for those that do the future will be bright. The people of UK have the money but lack the confidence in the future, much of the public think they have  already missed the boat and it is key to re-educate that solar PV in the UK still represents a sound financial investment.

Break out discussion Groups.

The evening ended with some time for drinks and networking with other visitors from the audience.  As I stepped outside the grand halls into the warm evening air, I felt a renewed sense of vigour and dare I say it – a sense of optimism for the UK Solar future.

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