As the solar industry recovers from the shock of December’s feed-in tariff announcements, many potential clients and solar providers have entered a period of number-crunching. The question over the viability of solar installations has never been more central, which is why many firms rushed to complete their installations before the cut-off date at midnight on 14 January.

Among these firms was social housing provider Gentoo, which was forced to up its game to deliver as many of its planned installations as possible. The Sunderland-based company had targeted 1,200 of its properties to be fitted with solar PV in the current financial year but took action when planned tariff reductions were revealed in August 2015.

Jonny Coxon of Gentoo explained: “In order to ensure we installed as many PV systems before the FiT deadline as possible, we increased installation capacity by 50% by essentially adding extra resource to our site teams. This included scaffolding, roofers and electrical operatives.”

The installation team grew from 12 to 27 and between 28 September 2015 and the January deadline it completed more than 700 solar installations at a time of year when the weather was beginning to batter the country. To deal with the increased need for site safety, Gentoo bolstered its installation force further with increased measures to ensure the increased workload was carried out safely. An extra site supervisor was added to the scheme to ensure health and safety measures were maintained, while work on roofs was halted during periods of snow and heavy rain.

“It was deemed too dangerous. We were limited to customer appointments and sign ups, carrying out EPC assessments and internal roof works,” Coxon said.

As a result of these efforts, Gentoo was able to fit 1,350 homes with solar PV, surpassing its target for the whole financial year by 150 installations. At one point during the rush period, 45 installations were carried out over five working days.

The company’s annual target has now been re-evaluated and set to 1,615 installations, but a question mark remains over the continuing viability of mass retrofit schemes like Gentoo’s.

“The main reason we’re in this game is to help our customers. We’re a social landlord so we’ve got a natural responsibility to help our customers save on their energy bills as much as possible. Fuel poverty is the main reason we started installing PV on homes and we’re continuing to try and do so and work with the funders to work out a model for future installations,” Coxon added.

Gentoo has around 400 further households listed as interested in having PV fitted but like many housing providers and others looking to install solar across their portfolios, the drastic cut in FiT rates has caused it to pause and take stock. While Gentoo is committed to continuing to install PV until the end of the financial year, Coxon is less confident about future prospects.

“It’s possible [PV will remain viable] but it’s not going to be kind for the industry,” he said.

With Gentoo properties generally at an EPC rating of D and above, there are few energy efficiency measures to take over from a slowdown in PV installations. As Coxon explains: “We do have some amount of boilers that will continue to be upgraded but in terms of insulation, we’re already there.”

With over 5,000 of its 28,500 homes fitted with solar, Gentoo has committed a lot to the installation of the technology. Its continued use will depend on finding a way to make it economically successful, but with the entire UK solar industry bent on this purpose, the technology no doubt still has a future for Gentoo and other firms like it.