Next week we will be publishing a series of featured blogs and articles outlining exactly what happened in the UK solar market during the first quarter of 2016.

Historically the strongest quarter in the UK, by virtue of the changes in Renewable Obligation banding levels and the expiry dates overlapping with the fiscal year cut-off date of 31 March, the size of the UK solar market in Q1 has generally set the tone for what to expect during the full calendar year.

Similar to previous years, the end of the first quarter was characterised by a combination of grace period conditions, most noticeably sites that could be built under the May 2014 changes (sites larger than 5MW able to be accredited under 1.3 ROCs/MWhr) and those meeting grandfathering requirements stemming from the July 2015 legislation (sites up to 5MW under 1.3 ROCs).

Adding to the mix was also the increased activity in community FiT projects and split sites, where a single planning application could be carved up into discrete plots of land, with various options for shared grid-connection and multiple SPV legal entities to each receive accreditation.

Finally, the quarter also saw the tail-end of the residential and commercial rooftop surge, brought about by the severe changes to FiTs for solar PV at the end of 2015.

And just to make things even more complicated, there was the not too insignificant contribution from the pre-accreditation mechanism that was used for commercial rooftops in particular, while also providing a buffer for some of the RO options. Pre-accreditation remains a factor in our tracking of deployment during Q2 2016 that we will report on in the next few months.

Looking at all the data collected and checked by our in-house research team at Solar Media, there has probably not been a more challenging quarter to track from a market research standpoint in the UK to date.

Consistent with our approach to sizing the UK market, we once again veer away from any government statistics, due to them running some 6 – 12 months in arrears of industry activity. It should be noted that when we sized the UK market for Q1’15, some 12 months ago on Solar Power Portal, and it took government registers about 9 months to finally settle at their Q1 2015 deployment estimate.

The result of this was that our market sizing for the 2.5GW quarter in Q1 2015 ended up better than 99% accurate, and as such would appear to fully validate the research methodology we are using to track, and forecast, UK solar.

The task of sizing solar deployment in the UK during Q1 2016 was made even harder by the sheer creativity and efficiency of local developers. This was prompted largely by the cut-off date at 1 April 2016 for sites greater than 5MW under the 2014 grace changes (with the exception of the small number of CfD projects in the pipeline today). It was compounded also by the options that split sites offered, something that we will explain in more detail during our features next week.

Again however, the key factor in being able to size the market in Q1 2016, in addition to the methodology applied, was simply the time to go through over 1,000 possible ground-mount projects, and follow carefully everything happening at the local planning level and on the SPV ownership side. Many hundreds of phone calls have been undertaken by our team since the start of April to work out exactly what happened, and we believe now we can touch with confidence more than 98% of all solar capacity installed in the three month period.

While getting the size of the market in hindsight is essential (not simply to get the summer solar generation fully mapped out for energy balancing at the supply side), it has taken on an extra dimension this year, due to the hard stop on 22 July 2015 (albeit with a minor caveat for planning applications to the LPAs in Scotland) for new applications being grandfathered under ROCs out to 31 March 2017.

The changes called out by the 22 July planning deadline effectively put the brakes on anything of value being added to the ground-mounted pipeline, and as such projects built, or abandoned, during Q1’16 are of course removed from the project backlog. The result is that on 1 April 2016, we then have excellent visibility of what is left in the pot (both under FiTs and ROCs) for the fiscal year ending 31 March 2017. Therefore, knowing how the sites were altered (during planning) or carved up under incentives is critical to the quality of data flowing into our Opportunity Pipeline report.

Next week, I will be posting three dedicated blogs on our Solar Power Portal, collectively telling the story of solar in the UK during Q1 2016.

On Monday, an article will appear on the growth of community based projects, and how this had a strong impact on the final capacity installed in the quarter. On Wednesday, there will be coverage and discussion on some of the key sites finished in Q1’16 and the big winners in UK solar during the quarter. Finally, on Friday, the series of features will end with the precise market size, and broken down in minute detail across application segments, funding routes, system size groupings and geographic locations.

With GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) recently sizing the US market for Q1 2016 at 1.665GW, would anyone like to take any bets if the UK was above or below this number? Or if UK deployment came anywhere near the record 2.5GW seen 12 months ago?

All will be revealed next week – we hope the reporting is every bit as interesting and useful as our recent Top 20 EPC special on Solar Power Portal – a series of features on EPCs that was the first detailed look at which companies were truly behind the UK passing through the 10GW cumulative installed level at the start of the year.