It’s not quite clear just how much ROC-accredited solar was installed in Q1 2016 but while it won’t be as much as the 2.53GW added throughout the corresponding period one year ago, it is without question that another considerable tranche of generation capacity was added. Solar Intelligence data shows that UK Solar breached the 10GW mark at some point in February, a banner moment for the industry.
Significant deployment in recent years might’ve caught the ire of the budget-conscious Conservative government, but it’s also attracted interest from a burgeoning operations and maintenance sector capable of keeping all those projects ticking along. There’s now a wealth of operational solar capacity in the UK, all of which is needed to be kept in prime operating condition to appease expectant investors.
As a result, the O&M market has had to mature quickly and is learning from other markets – particularly those in continental Europe – to have gone through the same meteoric growth. The scope of works is rapidly evolving to be more selective and technological advances might just automate the market entirely. But these are set against a backdrop of an increasingly challenging market populated with service providers fighting tooth and nail for scale. Price pressures are being driven down, and the sector is evolving almost quickly as it is growing.
What’s currently trending in this rapidly changing market is therefore of increasing interest.
The market is becoming increasingly competitive
As a growing number of developed solar farms come exit their warranty periods, asset managers have a burgeoning need to outsource this day-to-day operation to third parties. Jonathan Davies, head of energy at service provider Cobalt Energy, says given the demands of the service contracts any provider looking to cater for the UK market has to be domestic. “Actually physically going to the site, it needs to be a UK-based company if you're going to be competitive,” he says, noting cases of some asset owners growing frustrated with European EPCs sub-contracting to smaller, cheaper outfits to save their own margins. As a result, a substantial amount of demand has come on the market, creating something of a solar shoot out. Lightsource is a household name in asset development and project financing, but even it has cottoned on to the opportunity in O&M and has subsequently re-tooled some of its teams to cater for the market. It’s one of a number of firms including the likes of Anesco, Push Energy and Encom catering for the UK. Those major players stand alongside others looking to make a name for themselves, all looking for a way in which to differentiate, be it through product, pricing, placing, or a mixture of all three. Davies says that Cobalt, coming from an established background outside of solar, has elected to position itself outside of the price war. “We're going for a quality approach with H&S focus and technical competence. We might be a little more expensive than the rest, but you can depend on the output,” he says.
To continue reading this article, download the latest edition of Solar Business Focus UK magazine which is available free of charge here. In this issue you’ll find not only the complete article on O&M trends, but also coverage of new marketing and lead generation techniques, insight into what a potential Brexit might mean for the UK’s energy market and a look at the opportunities for solar installers with local authorities.