Pre-reset feed-in tariff rush not as large as expected

Figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change this morning show a significant increase in deployment for December 2015, but the industry has reacted with claims the rush is not as large as previously expected.

DECC’s figures state almost 23,000 <=4kW systems were fitted in December, adding to the 22,000 installed in November. Combined figures for Q4 2015 put installations at more than 61,000, up around 87% on deployment during the same period in 2014.

But while deployment has almost doubled, some within the industry have remarked that deployment is actually lower than expected.

When DECC’s feed-in tariff consultation proposals were first made public in August much of the industry expected a significant uptick in deployment as the general publish rushed to beat looming rate cuts. Deployment in October was only marginally up on the year before, but the industry remained confident of a pre-cut surge of between two and three times normal deployment.

There were even suggestions that the market could suffer a module shortage as installations ramped up and installers faced difficulty in sourcing finance.

Today’s figures have therefore been met with some questioning. “The statistics released today are not unexpected as an increase in the amount of solar being deployed ahead of the cut on 15 January was always likely,” Paul Barwell, chief executive at the Solar Trade Association, said.

“However, the ‘huge rush’ some predicted has not really occurred, perhaps reflecting the 2015 stable market conditions as well as the cut in absolute terms was less than in 2012 – an 8p cut instead of a 20p cut. We won’t know the full impact until January’s stats are published,” he added.

Stuart Elmes, chief executive at Viridian Solar, echoed Barwell’s sentiments on Twitter and suggested the possibility of a lag in DECC’s stats.

Figures for November have indeed been revised upward since their initial publication in December and DECC’s deployment stats for the Renewables Obligation have been notoriously behind the curve. However any revision of those figures is likely to be comparatively minimal.

Meanwhile DECC’s sub-national statistics, published at the same time, highlighted just how poor solar’s uptake in Greater London has become. Despite an estimated 3.4 million households by the end of December 2015 there was just 54MW of domestic solar installations; equivalent to just 1.6% of the UK total.

That figure is even starker in contrast to other areas of the UK. The north east has twice the domestic solar capacity despite not commonly being associated with high levels of solar irradiance while the south east – with 3.6 million estimated households – has circa 307MW of rooftop generation. The south west meanwhile continues to lead the way with almost 352MW of rooftop solar.

London’s flailing solar deployment, and the reasoning behind it, continues to be of interest for much of the industry and beyond. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been peppered with questions from London Assembly members on the topic while the two frontrunners to replace him in May – Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith – have both unveiled pledges to help stimulate London’s market.

The Greater London Authority is due to publish a London Energy Plan early this year, the contents of which could outline just how successful the push for a more solar-friendly London stands to be.

The industry’s attention now, according to Barwell, must be on the uncertainties that remain under the new regime. Installations have been paused until 8 February but Ofgem has yet to publish additional information regarding the capping and queuing system. “We have ongoing concerns how the new caps system will be implemented. How will homeowners know what their Feed-in Tariff rate will be before they agree to put solar on their roof? How does an installer know what to tell its customer? We look forward to working with DECC and Ofgem to resolve these issues,” Barwell added.