UK solar industry should approach the future with ‘pragmatic optimism’

Industry experts have called for “pragmatic optimism” within the UK solar sector over the coming months at a recent industry seminar hosted by PV distributors SunConnex and EH Smith.  

Speakers at the seminar spoke of the aggressive rise in energy prices and the predicted fall in module costs by up to 29 percent this year as reasons for industry to remain positive over the future.

Delegates argued that currently, the UK solar market finds itself in a transitional period after a series of cuts to the feed-in tariff last year. However, delegates saw this revision of the FiT rates as a natural realignment with the European and global markets. The delegates maintained that returns, even under the new August tariff, could reach between 9 and 10 percent.

Philip Elias, Commercial Manager at SunConnex, said: “It is not business as usual, there is no denying that the UK market is in a transition period. However in Europe since 2011 PV has overtaken wind power and gas for the first time in terms of power generation capacity. We believe that the global and UK forecasts look extremely healthy and for SunConnex, as industry veterans, it is a case of adapts to thrive rather than survive.”

Delegates also spoke of the increasing importance of Renewable Obligation Certificates in the market. However, news yesterday of the decision to delay the banding announcement will once more unsettle the market. The use of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) to fund large scale solar parks was also identified as an important tool in the future of solar developments. Delegates believed that the industry should work with DECC and legal advisors to further harness PPAs in the market.

Those in attendance also pointed to future legislation, such as Government’s upcoming Zero Carbon Housing by 2016, as a reason for the industry to remain upbeat over future prospects.

John Cave, Sustainability Director for EH Smith said: “Construction is the UK’s biggest contributor to carbon emissions. Government has pledged to cut overall emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels and by 2016 every new building will have to have a renewable energy source. The use of Energy Performance Certificates will be hugely important, in terms of laying the basis for a taxation based on carbon and PV can certainly lead the way in providing solutions.

“The much reported Green Deal is also important. Whilst it is not a silver bullet, as a funding mechanism it will unlock a demographic of the population as prospective customers.”

Keynote speaker Mike Pitcher, Managing Director of consultants BFC, said: “The UK market needs consistency in policy and the communication of policy which we are now experiencing for the first time with the contingent degression mechanism. PV is an integral part of the climate change and energy security jigsaw- it is important to remember that we do not have to use new technology to solve problems when it already exists.

Pitcher concluded: “The Technology Strategy Board has already implemented a £17m programme known as Retrofit for the Future (RfF), to kick-start the retrofitting of the UK’s housing stock against 2050 type levels of carbon reduction and energy efficiency. By 2050 80% of the housing stock we live in today will still exist. This is a huge opportunity for the PV market.”