This week’s Solar Energy UK exhibition brought the UK’s solar sector together at Birmingham’s NEC at a crucial time. It was the largest SEUK ever as the show notched up its third consecutive year of growth, despite the uncertainty facing the market. Here are five things we learned from the three-day exhibition.
Reports of the UK solar sector’s death are premature
The positivity on display from exhibitors and visitors alike was something that was picked up on by many of those attending. The solar industry has had a difficult time of late and has constantly been looking over its shoulder, with George Osborne’s shadow looming large. Proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff are hugely damaging, untimely and responsible for considerable uncertainty – evidenced best by Thursday’s collapse of Southern Solar, a company that once employed 100 people – but SEUK 2015 proved that there are reasons to be optimistic. Talk of subsidy-free solar and post-FiT diversification was popular and Tuesday’s keynote debate brought together some considerable heavyweights of the industry to discuss what’s next.
Diversification will be key
Business diversification was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a central theme of the show and installers looking how best to prepare their businesses for what lies ahead were in ample supply. Energy efficiency technologies – particularly LED lighting – look likely to be big business in the coming months and years as businesses large and small battle to comply with ESOS regulations and reduce their energy demand. Solar businesses are well placed to cater for this burgeoning market and would do well to get in on the ground floor.
There’s business internationally too
Some of the most popular sessions of the week were held on international markets with huge renewable ambitions. India wants to install 100GW of solar by 2022 and UK businesses, highly regarded in the country and with a substantial amount of experience in deploying large quantities of solar, will be crucial for India to meet its targets. The Middle East and North Africa regions are also thought to be high-growth and while doing business in such regions might be alien to EPCs and developers who’ve had life somewhat easier in the UK market until very recently, travelling to where the money is will be vital. Ireland is indeed closer to home, but a lot will rest in the country’s announcement of a feed-in tariff and other renewables support frameworks which look set to be unveiled before the turn of the year, and possibly as early as later this month.
The future’s bright, the future is storage
It’s a well-worn trope that solar plus storage is how most of the industry sees its future, but SEUK 2015 could be looked back on as the year commercially-ready options were exhibited. Various storage products were on display by almost a quarter of the exhibitors, many of which are ready for action. Tesla’s eagerly anticipated Powerwall has been pencilled in for a Q1 2016 UK launch and will be expected to take a considerable market share, but there’s seemingly no reason why other manufacturers cannot find a space in the market. The appetite for storage has always been there, but 2016 looks set to be the year it’s finally satiated. With that in made, our publisher and the SEUK organiser, Solar Media, officially unveiled its Energy Storage division at the show.
The industry must stay together
It’s easy to get bogged down by the sales machine at trade shows like this. Battle lines are drawn and companies often spend most of the time entrenched in trying to get exactly what they need at the most beneficial price. On top of that, three days spent together in one hall at the NEC in Birmingham is enough to give anybody a dose of cabin fever. But in the face of such politically-driven adversity, the industry simply has to put forward a united front. There’s too much at stake to delve into wars of words and spend the next two months fretting over what DECC might have lying in store. Solar’s a disruptive technology, but let’s not be a disruptive industry. Be proactive and address the government’s ill-conceived attack on renewables head on.