An increasing number of companies in the commercial and industrial (C&I) space are coming round to solar, however their business is placing more demands on installers particularly in the field of customer service.
That is the opinion of Chris Morrison, head of power development at Centrica’s British Gas Solar division, who also firmly believes that solar PV can now deliver returns without subsidies for intensive energy users – with the caveat that installations are appropriately sized.
Speaking to Solar Power Portal after the company revived the Energise Barnsley project last week, Morrison said British Gas Solar’s strategy had been focused on “direct to customer work” rather than installations plugged into the national grid.
This, Morrison said, allowed the company to compete with commercial electricity costs without subsidy support when energy consumption is high and solar can be tailored to meet base load requirements.
“If your customers are paying around ten pence per kilowatt hour, then you can still see quite quickly that the levelised cost of some of these installations is starting to meet that price,” he said.
Morrison gave the particular example of water companies and local authorities as entities with particularly high energy demands who would also stand to benefit from a relatively low cost of capital.
He added that British Gas was now beginning to broach the subject of battery storage technologies with these companies to provide them with access to load-shifting capabilities – allowing the company to begin generating revenues from the grid – and said that batteries are now “close to the point of commercialisation” when linked with solar PV.
However Morrison warned that installers hoping to cater for this faced demands and expectations that they had previously not encountered, particularly in the field of private network engineering and continual customer service.
“I think the key difference is dealing with C&I customers is very different to dealing with developers and land owners. You're typically connecting to their own private network which may be an older network which has its own issues and then synchronisation issues with that private network which you may not have with a new grid connection.
“Then obviously, the key thing not to forget is you have a customer on the end of it which you don't have with the grid. You're having to please the customer, focus on customer service… It's not an easy switch from the ground-mount grid connected stuff to the C&I customers,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s comments come amidst a significant shift in the UK solar market, with Ofgem deployment statistics showing a downturn in standard residential deployment.
But while residential bands continue to struggle, the commercial rooftop market continues to post encouraging results and last week breached its deployment cap for a second successive quarter.