As the solar industry begins to wind down for a much-deserved holiday break, I thought it might be an appropriate time to take a look back at 2012’s most read stories on Solar Power Portal.
It has been another eventful year in the UK solar industry that has been filled with the usual highs and lows. From minister’s tweets to over-zealous lawyers, this year’s round-up of stories provides a neat recap of 2012 in the solar industry. Brace yourself though; some of these stories might take you back to some dark places:
Our first entry into the top 10 stories of 2012 takes us back to May when industry was still reeling from the introduction of the 21p FiT rate. As a consequence of the new, lower FiT rate the UK solar market dropped from 71MW a month average to just 15MW a month. Rumours began to surface that DECC was considering delaying the proposed drop to 16p. Right on cue the minister took to Twitter to confirm that: “Having listened carefully to industry, we are looking at scope for pushing back a little the next proposed reduction in solar feed-in tariffs.”
In late August, Ofgem published the installation figures for May, June and July the first that would inform the FiT levels under the new tri-monthly degression model. Lacklustre installation levels meant that the headline <4kW FiT rate was only reduced by 3.5% to 15.44p from 16p.
Those early solar adopters who were lucky enough to secure the 43.3p/kWh FiT rate received a further boost when the annual RPI increase saw the tariff level boosted by 4.8% to 45.4p/kWh generated.
Following the furore created by the legal challenge to DECC’s proposed fast-track changes to the FiT rate, the department confirmed that a new feed-in tariff rate of 21p/kWh for <4kW solar PV installations would come into effect between 12 December and 1 April 2012. The measures were intended to provide a modicum of certainty for the industry after it had effectively frozen pending the results of the legal challenge. Chris Huhne (remember him?) said: “We continue to stand by our original proposal. However, I know that the uncertainty while we await the Court’s decision is difficult for the industry. A retention of the 43p tariff could also create substantial risks to the FiTs budget if our appeal is unsuccessful. For these reasons, we believe it is prudent to bring forward our decision on one aspect of the consultation: the proposals for new solar PV tariffs.”
In December the industry was awash with rumours that DECC was masterminding further cuts to the proposed 21p FiT rate. Understandably, after swallowing a 50% cut to the FiT rate industry was anxious about DECC wielding the axe once more. This story reported that the department could not further reduce the FiT rate until at least April. According to SPP’s well-placed source, the government would “almost certainly” not be able to set a tariff below 21p (or the other tariffs proposed in the FiTs Phase 1 consultation) without a further consultation. If this were the case, changes could not be implemented on or before 1 April 2012, as there was simply not enough time to launch a new consultation between now and then.
Finally on March 23, the Supreme Court put an end to all the legal to-ing and fro-ing that had plunged the UK solar industry into chaos. The protracted legal battle was finally finished, with the courts ruling in favour of the solar industry that: “It is not within the power conferred on the Secretary of State by the Energy Act 2008 to reduce the tariff paid for electricity generated by small-scale solar photovoltaic generators, in respect of installations becoming eligible for payment prior to the coming into force of the modification.”
This blog piece explored the current confusion surrounding export meters, energy companies and solar installations. The vast majority of energy companies just assume that a domestic solar array will export 50% of the electricity generated and pay the system owner accordingly. Upon further investigation it was found that many energy companies actively tried to dissuade customers from installing export meters to explicitly monitor their exported energy. EDF even went as far as quoting £400+ to install one with ‘substantial’ maintenance fees.
In late May, the solar industry found out the results of DECC’s latest consultation that proposed a number of different degression models for solar FiT rates. The new tri-monthly degression model was revealed and implemented from August 1. Since the 16p rate was implemented the industry has stagnated to such a point that the FiT rate would have only reduced by 3.5% come March 2013. Industry reaction to the new proposals was somewhat mixed – the majority welcomed the level of certainty provided by the new mechanism.
In an amendment to the Permitted Development Rights it became clear that planning permission for non-domestic solar installations would no longer be required from the beginning of April 2012. The change in policy was welcomed by industry who viewed it as one more barrier to entry being removed for the notoriously difficult commercial rooftop sector.
The most-read story of 2012 was a liveblog from the Court of Appeal on the solar industry’s fabled D-Day. However, much like today’s predicted Mayan apocalypse, those expecting a result were left ultimately frustrated. After a full day’s session the Court of Appeal reserved judgement. A renewable energy lawyer told Solar Power Portal: “This is a frustrating result for many companies in the solar PV industry who were hoping for some clarity today…In the meantime, all companies and investors can do is sit tight and wait.”
So there you have it, the top 10 most read stories of 2012. The list is dominated by the continually shifting solar FiT policy that has plagued the industry since the scheme was introduced.
Let’s hope that the New Year will bring a new level of policy certainty and a lot more highs. In the meantime, enjoy the festive break and I’ll see you all in 2013 (or whenever DECC decides to release the updated renewables roadmap).