Ecobuild: Energy generation remains ‘key focus’ for RE:FIT delivery unit

Installing on-site energy generators such as solar PV will remain a “key focus” for the next phase of the UK’s RE:FIT delivery programme despite subsidy cuts.

The comments, made by Turner & Townsend director Richard McWilliams during a seminar session at this week’s Ecobuild show, will likely serve as a further boon for a domestic renewables market hit by cuts to the small-scale feed-in tariff and other support schemes.

Turner & Townsend manages the RE:FIT programme delivery unit which is currently in the process of launching RE:FIT’s next phase, running from 2016 to 2020.

The third framework of the retrofit programme has been expanded slightly, adding new features which McWilliams said will “build upon” the success of its former iterations.

These include a wider support framework for interested parties, the appointment of marketing agency Radley Yeldar to promote the scheme and an increased focus on more innovative approaches to energy efficiency.

McWilliams said that these changes had been made to address a “drop off in the sense of urgency” RE:FIT had witnessed over the past year. As the majority of public sector firms have embraced cheaper energy efficiency technologies – so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’ gains such as LED lighting – costlier, more complicated technologies have become the next logical step.

Renewables will largely fall into this bracket, but McWilliams insisted that technologies such as solar remain of interest to the new PDU.

This comes despite the London mayor Boris Johnson last month admitting that £2.7 million worth of solar installations in RE:FIT’s pipeline had been cancelled in the wake of FiT cuts.

McWilliams said that while subsidy cuts had “definitely had an affect” on payback periods, public sector authorities had began to roll renewables into much wider efficiency schemes to increase their scale and gain greater support.

“We’re also now beginning to see these parties think about their consumption, perhaps getting their electricity for 3p instead of 10p and thinking of savings that way,” he added.

Robert McKinnon, national business development lead for the RE:FIT programme, provided the example of Cambridge County Council which had involved a 12MW solar farm – one of five successful bidders under the CfD process – into one such scheme that had already began to justify the council’s investment.

Public sector organisations and local authorities evidently still hold a keen interest in solar, and connecting with them will be a key theme running throughout the Solar Power Portal Roadshows, which run between March and April across the UK. Further details, including locations and how to attend for free, can be found here.

While the spectre of government cuts looms large at this year’s Ecobuild, UK solar has already received a vote of confidence from manufacturers exhibiting at the show and much of the discussion has centred on future business models rather than any potential post-mortem.