Mixed messages for UK PV: Innovation and criticism

In an indication of the pace of photovoltaic installations going up in the UK and the innovative ways solar is being spread, two 50 kilowatt (kW) installations have been completed by Orta Solar in a matter or weeks. The first project was an installation on a grain barn in Hampshire. The company was particularly pleased that the installation could be installed in only four weeks and while the barn was full of wheat.

The second Orta project, involved installing panels next to the main runway at London’s Gatwick airport. The installation was the first of its kind the UK and the company had to work with the Civial Aviation Authority and the National Air Traffic Service to ensure that it the photovoltaic modules and electronics did not interfere with ground radar or create glare problems for airport staff and pilots. The 50kW system is considered the trial phase of a larger photovoltaic installation at Gatwick.

Further west in Wales, the Wrexham Council has completed a five megawatt (MW) project across its council-housed residents’ roofs. The project is predicted to deliver to the council £one million (US$1.07 million) in revenue from FIT payments and save each resident around £200 to £300 (US$213 to US$320) per year on their electricity bills. The council intends to put the money earned back into its housing program.

Wrexham chose Sharp Solar panels for the installations as the Japanese company operates a module factory in the town. While the initial program was budgeted to cost £28 million (US$30 million), a spokesman from the council informed pv magazine that the project has come in, "considerably under budget, due to falling component costs".

However it hasn’t been all good news for photovoltaics in the UK. The "Thinking about the Affordable" report, released today by KPMG and AF Consult, looked at the costs of pursuing renewable energy targets as an effective C02 reduction strategy. The report concluded that if renewable and C02 reduction targets are to be met, then 40 percent will be added to the cost. The KPMG analysis concludes that in its "most efficient grid mix" scenario, 2020 C02 targets will be met at a cost of £74 billion (US$79 billion). By contrast, if renewable targets are added to the goals, then the cost would be £108 billion (US$115 billion).

The Renewable Energy Association Chief Executive Gaynor Hartnell has slammed the report, saying that the report ignores issues such as fuel security and that the government needs to "stand behind" its renewable energy targets. "A secure energy future is one where the fuels don’t run out, and nor do the places to store their waste," said Hartnell.