Have you binned your solar PV project prematurely?

I was working with a local authority in Scotland recently, discussing all forms of renewable energy and assisting them to develop a renewable energy strategy.

Naturally, we discussed solar PV and it transpired that the Council in question had prepared a scheme last year. It had chosen 20 of its civic buildings; had surveyed them for roof condition; undertaken preliminary work such as orientation, electricity supply checks and buildings usage. In fact, it had done all of the preparatory work to progress the scheme and was just about to commence a tendering exercise to appoint a solar PV contractor to undertake the fitting work when the FiT cuts were announced.

It re-examined its business case and determined that on the lower rates it did not pass its required return on investment rules. In effect, the scheme was binned. It was scenarios such as this that caused so much criticism of DECC and its handling of feed in tariffs.

However, the authority then forgot about the scheme completely, not realising that costs of PV reduced by 50 percent last year and have reduced a further 30 percent this year. When I mentioned these cost reductions in my recent visit some interest was sparked and I suggested that they recover the proposals from the bin, dust them down and have another look at them. Lo and behold, the scheme now makes financial sense again.

This tale is not apocryphal and is not uncommon either. Many local authorities that I have spoken to have commented that they had schemes that were never completed for this reason. Add to those, the Councils that had not even got that far, and we see where the new shoots of growth are now coming from.

On Wednesday this week I prepared a seminar for APSE on the topic Renewables v Energy Efficiency. The audience included Energy Managers and Leaders from almost 20 local authorities. David Owen, CEO, Solar Media, presented compelling evidence for the audience that proved costs for installing PV had come down and created a great buzz in the room calling on Local Authorities to step up and take advantage of the FiT scheme once again.

Many local authorities will revisit solar PV over coming months and many more schemes can be anticipated, whether reinvigorated former schemes or just new proposals driven by the settling of the FIT regime and the confirmation that return rates are back above 5 percent.

APSE’s Renewables v Energy Efficiency event took place at the Coventry Transport Museum on the 18th of July 2012.


Stephen Cirell is an independent consultant on low carbon and renewable energy. He is author of A Guide to Solar PV Projects for Local Government and the Public Sector.