Ecobuild 2012: UK PV industry ready for sustainable growth


"The U.K. market has good solid long term potential," says Jerry Stokes, president of Suntech Europe. "The emphasis is on PV saving money as opposed to making money."

Despite the feed-in tariff (FIT) teething troubles of the past year, the U.K. is emerging as a balanced market, with room for different types of module technologies, from low-cost, to high-spec, to design-led building-integrated photovoltaic applications, driven by companies such as ZEDprojects Ltd rolling out zero-carbon housing projects.

While the recent photovoltaic FIT cuts have reduced the flow of residential installations, the commercial sector is yielding new opportunities. With reductions in module pricing and other balance of system components, renewable obligation certificates (ROCs) provide enough subsidy to make utility solar a worthwhile investment for the bigger projects, believes David Lowen, sales director for renewable energy markets in Western Europe.

U.K. installer Renewable Resources announced completion of a photovoltaic roll-out with U.K. retailer Sainsbury’s. Roof-mounted photovoltaic panels on more than 100 of the supermarket chain’s stores will produce 6.9 megawatts (MW) in total a year, forming a key element of Sainsbury’s ‘20 by 20 Sustainability Plan’. The project met the FIT deadlines. According to Renewable Resources Chief Executive Paul Gribben the installer is working with a couple of other retail clients on solar PV projects. "The balance is about 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial though the commercial market is growing," says Gribben.

Established in 2008 the firm’s commercial photovoltaic business also includes installations for a range of public sector services include prisons, police and schools.

Sundog Energy, a photovoltaic installation and distribution company in Cumbria, is also growing its commercial business carrying out the installation as part of the redesign of Kings Cross train station in London. The glass roof, which has a 240 kilowatt (kW) capacity and cost GBP1.3 million (US$2.08 million), uses bespoke panels supplied by Romag. Other recent commercial projects include a 143 kW rooftop installation on a grade 2 listed Victorian cotton mill in Lancashire, in the north of England.

In the coming weeks the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will publish FIT rates for photovoltaics from July 2012, which will be informed by its review of the current rate of installations. Estimates from companies supplying the U.K. solar industry suggest the figure could be somewhere between 800 MW and 1.1 gigawatts.