The Solar Intelligence team at Solar Media can exclusively reveal that Inazin Power – one of the longest-established leading project developers in the UK ground-mount sector – is expanding its market presence in the UK solar industry through large commercial rooftops.

According to Solar Media’s new Top-500 market intelligence report – that lists the top 500 companies driving the UK’s thriving ground-mount solar sector by tiered ranking groups – Inazin Power is comfortably a tier one project developer for ground-mounted solar.

According to Debbie Webb, responsible for commercial rooftop activities at Inazin Power: “Our core strength is derived from being a leading developer with over 200MW already connected, and includes initial site-finding, planning, legal, design, grid connection, project management and financing.”

Figure caption: As a tier one project developer for the UK ground-mount sector, Inazin Power has developed over 200MW of operational solar farm capacity. Source: Inazin Power & Solar Media, June 2015.

While there are several other key developers that have announced rooftop strategies in the past few months in the UK (Lightsource, Lark Energy, SunEdison and others), what would appear to be different from Inazin’s perspective is that Inazin’s specific value-added in ground-mount was almost exclusively at the site development stage, and not through construction or asset ownership.

Webb continued: “As part of our new strategic rooftop and carport venture, Inazin is offering fully funded PPA options with rates as low as 5p/kWh, positioning us as a strong candidate for commercial and industrial businesses seeking to make significant savings through on-site solar PV production without the requirement for up-front capital. This helps to negate the aggressive pay back expectations of businesses – as short as two years – that are often required before in-house funds are released. The use of third-party funded PPAs not only frees up capital to invest in the business’s core activities, but offers the added benefit of reducing utility bills by up to 50%.”

As new and differentiated models evolve for large commercial rooftops in the UK, it will be interesting to see what impact Inazin has as the sector grows. Right now, the commercial rooftop market is starting to gain traction, but what may ultimately make it successful is having a strong collection of competing companies collectively driving its growth.

There are different business models being rolled out for commercial rooftop PV in the UK, through leasing structures, financing vehicles and asset ownership status. Given that no-size-fits-all for commercial rooftops, there is definitely room for a range of options and players, as part of a GW annual market sector. The importance of capital – site owner or third-party – is certainly one of the key issues that will be played out in the months and years ahead.

However, all of the models being advocated to drive the large-scale commercial rooftop market can only benefit from recent changes in government policy, to help stimulate this under-exploited part of the UK solar market.

Indeed, this sentiment was largely echoed by Webb: “The recent announcement from the government to allow the relocation of rooftop PV installations after the first four years of installation [the ‘lift and shift’ provision], gives extra security to commercial owners that are faced with long lease terms of 25-30 years. Also, allowing permitted consent for rooftops up to 1MW will certainly help reduce lead times and simplify the overall planning process.”

In contrast to the ground-mount sector in the UK, where developers are often reticent to talk up success for fear of government policy changes, the commercial rooftop market needs more success stories, to stimulate investment and create a critical mass in deployment.

Therefore, while Inazin’s move into rooftops may appear to some as being a direct threat to other companies also seeking to grow this part of the market, most will welcome their addition. The market probably needs about a dozen key players, especially at the early site development stage, as it strives to become a GW-scale annual market.

In terms of Inazin’s longer term plans in this space, Webb added: “Inazin was behind the development of some of the first large-scale solar farms back in 2011. In addition to now playing an important part in helping to stimulate the creation of a sustainable large commercial rooftop market in the UK, we see the next major development coming from battery storage facilities often combined with solar carports.”

When FiTs were introduced in the UK back in 2010, it was expected by policy makers that the market would be driven by home-owned residential assets. While this has in part been fulfilled, the main reason that FiTs have been a solar-driven success for the government is because a variety of financing and ownership models has stimulated a range of rooftop deployment models. This includes sub-4kW single site home-owned properties, third-party funded/owned ‘free-solar’ schemes, social housing initiatives and community-owned projects.

For the large commercial rooftop market to follow a similar growth trajectory, it is likely that a range of business models and commercially-driven strategies will ultimately be required. In this regard, the fact that one of the leading ground-mount developers – Inazin Power – has chosen to target this market can only be seen as a positive, and something that may help in establishing a new, competitive and thriving opportunity for UK solar.