On 29th June London gave host to the conference “The Solar Future: UK II”. As the title suggests, the conference’s topic was about the UK Solar Market and was attended by members from all parts of the solar community including: module manufacturers, inverter companies, installers, industry interest groups, investors and governmental representatives. The speakers and topics were very well selected and the conference was highly informative.
A recurring topic was the recent announcement by the UK government on the reduction of feed-in-tariffs for solar installation above 50kW. This sparked a lot of discussions and emotions. Popular opinion was that solar market would prevail as a significant part of the UK renewable energy market, the reduction in feed-in-tariffs will result in a slow down of its adoption. In addition to this, according to investors present, the focus of investments has shifted from renewables to energy efficiency savings.
Rachel Solomon Williams from DECC explained the reason behind the reduction of the feed-in-tariff. The uptake of solar systems was larger than estimated, which was partly caused by the reduction of cost of solar systems. The main concern, she explained, was that money put aside for solar energy for the next three years would have been used up within one year if no intervention had taken place. This called for a fast track review of the feed-in-tariffs with the standard review still taking place. There might be further changes to it after the review that would come into effect in April next year.
Module Cost and Energy Parity
Another important conversation centered on energy parity and the module cost. The cost of modules has decreased continuously. Since 2006 the costs have reduced by 40%. Trina Solar claims that it will achieve module costs below US$ 1.00 per Watt this year. Of course, installation price is not included. Equally, energy prices have increased over the last years and are expected to increase further. Within the next five years the cost of electricity produced from solar energy will be on parity with the cost of electricity produced by conventional means, as Ben Hill from Trina Solar estimated.
The UK market for PV has been growing rapidly over the last year, mostly due to the introduction of the feed-In-tariff.
The market segments range from homeowners (ca 70% of installed capacity according to ofgem) all the way through to industrial scale solar plants (1% of capacity). The cut in feed in tariff for large-scale solar installation will substantially hinder further roll out for them during next coming years. But it is assumed that for traditional SME companies with plenty of space on their industrial building, solar is still a viable option and will continue to be taken up.
An interesting point made by one of the speakers was that UK public is more likely to accept the aesthetics of solar panels than that of wind generators. This is reflected in the time it takes to obtain planning permission for the installation of solar panels compared to wind turbines, which three times faster than for wind generators.
One of the changes already taking place is the introduction of new business models. For example: the roof of a building is rented by a company who then installs PV panels. In return, the roof owner gets free access to the energy produced by the system and possibly a share of the profits of the energy provided by the grid. In another business model, farmers were offered free sheds with PV panels on their roof, where the provider of the shed earns from the electricity produced.
Trends on the product side besides constant efficiency improvements are smart modules that monitor performance and transmit the data, designs for easier installation or integration into buildings, improved inverters and new service and warranty offerings. Another future driver is the aesthetics of the panels. There are already panels on offer that look like slate tiles.
In conclusion, solar electricity will play a major role in the UK. It will become cost effective and there might be still room for innovation and technology coming from the UK.