UK downgraded to 2.4GW for 2014 as ROC uncertainty bites

Mid-year softness, due in part to market uncertainty following the proposed ROC adjustments back in May 2014, has created a partial lull on ground-mount PV activity in the UK.

This resulted in Q3’14 deployment reaching 295MW, lower than previous expectations.

As a result, NPD Solarbuzz is downgrading 2014 UK solar PV deployment to 2.4GW (some observers had speculated 2014 demand would even break the 3GW level).

It is worth remembering, however:

The Q3’14 level is still a record deployment figure for any third quarter of UK solar PV additions.

Every quarter so far in 2014 has been a quarterly record for PV deployed in the UK. This will continue to happen for Q4’14 and, not too surprisingly, in Q1’15.

2014 is still on track to show a year-on-year growth figure of the order of 70%.

June and July were largely ‘lost’ (for the ground-mount sector) due to the fact that every developer had to reassess their business model, in light of the 1 April 2015 changes being proposed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. As opposed to gradually building solar farms under 1.4ROCs, bandwidth and resource was stretched somewhat, and even projects ready to build saw push out.

Some developers prioritised the time to find as many possible new sites, with new planning applications seeing a huge uptick after May, partly as a hedge against the various funding permutations that may unfold. (The phrase ‘last-chance saloon’ has also been heard regularly in certain quarters, for those of a more pessimistic leaning.)

In fact, were it not for September 2014, it would have been a quarter within which rooftops would have grabbed the limelight, and who knows how this might have been interpreted by departing or arriving government ministers!

September’s 3-for-1 Deal

You wait all day for a bus to come along, and then three appear at once. That pretty much sums up the ground-mount segment in Q3’14.

By the end of the quarter, the three largest solar farms in the UK (each bigger than Wymeswold) had been energised. Interestingly, the largest developer and owner of solar farms in the UK can’t lay claim to any of these, but that’s a totally separate story.

The end of Q3’14 was blistering in terms of ground-mount capacity added to the grid. If this was the Ryder Cup, the commentators would be brandishing the word ‘momentum’ going into the last round. And rightly so.

There is about 300MW of ground-mounted projects being installed right now, most probably getting finished by the end of the calendar year. Add the others that are just about to start, and this is what will get the UK to the new forecast of 2.4GW by the end of the year.

Anyone banking on the mythical large rooftop market helping 2014 numbers in any great way should probably have a good rethink. The UK PV market is still all about domestic (and social housing) installations and large-scale solar farms, and will remain so for the next six months. You can still count on one hand the installers doing large rooftops on a regular basis.

Who’ll stop the rain?

With the minimum import price (MIP) for Chinese modules to Europe appearing to have been set for Q4’14 (see my blog on Tuesday on PV-Tech.org) with what looks like a single euro cent reduction, modules should start flowing more freely also. It is now the 1 January 2015 optional reset that is the current worry.

Of course, the usual bottlenecks are being cited by many developers (switchgear lead times, DNO connection dates, construction financing, and so on…). But the UK PV market is completely different to a few years ago, when about half a dozen developers divvied up the solar farm deployment.

At the end of the day, we will only know what effect each of these bottlenecks will have on 1.4ROC ground-mount activities when the numbers are added up on 1 April 2015, and whether the issues are developer-specific or just characteristic of positioning tactics during the (somewhat ongoing) ROC consultation exercise.

But with a market hitting quarterly deployment records, one quarter after another, the numbers tell a different story. The worry for most of course is how long they will last, and just how much solar will really be incentivised in the years ahead.

However, possibly it will be a variable out of everyone’s hands that will have the final say on 1.4 ROC activities in Q1’14: the weather.

Will February and March 2015 be dry or wet months, and (in contrast to the past two years) can the rain be stopped from impacting on site completions by midnight on Tuesday 31 March 2015?