UK: Smaller PV presence at Ecobuild 2013

Ecobuild 2013 took place from March 5 to 7 at the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands. In comparison to last year’s around 57,000 visitors, it appears that numbers were down, and exhibition space smaller.

And, while no official numbers are yet available, exhibitors commented on the reduced PV presence. Stands were also smaller, in general, and the British Photovoltaic Association, for example, which hosted a large stand last year, did not exhibit this time around.

Rather than a declining industry, however, the smaller numbers are a sign of the current solar shakeout, which has seen a lot of companies, distributors in particular, exiting the industry.

In the past year, the U.K. installed around a GW of new PV capacity and has a cumulative installed capacity of around 2 GW. In addition to feed-in tariffs (FITs) for residential and small-scale installations, large-scale PV in the U.K. is incentivised by the Renewables Obligation (RO). Current internal rates of return for PV installations are said to be 10% under the RFIT to 2015, and under the ROCs to 2017.

Many companies are buoyed by growing commercial and utility-scale PV opportunities in the U.K. Solarcentury, an installation firm, which finances and develops large-scale rooftop and ground mounted PV installations, is developing over 60 MW of projects in the country, including commercial rooftop and ground mounted installations that will be grid connected by this March 31.

Most agree that the reduction in PV panel prices is driving the growth of the large-scale solar PV market in the U.K., in addition to incentives such as the RO. In Europe, the U.K. market is rewarding companies that have established themselves early on. One of these is Renusol, which supplies PV mounting systems. According to MD Stefan Liedtke, "The U.K. is not a price driven market in the way that Italy is, for example. It sustains businesses that provide good quality products and services."

The company’s Metasole system, which directly fastens modules to the roof, as opposed to metal rails fixed onto the roof, is popular in the U.K. as it reportedly reduces labour costs associated with attaching the PV mounting structure, by up to 40%.

However, the past 12 months has had its ups and downs with several established distributors either exiting the market through closing down their PV businesses or by being acquired. This has had impact on suppliers across the board, including Renusol, which is focusing on establishing new distribution channels in the U.K. in 2013.

"It’s not like it was a couple of years ago, where many companies were getting in contact as new distributors trying to get established in the market," concurs Mariana Hall, VP, Phono Solar in the U.K.

At Ecobuild the company launched several new products, including a module, which features a microinverter already attached to the frame, using Enphase’s M215 microinverter. The AC Frame Attached Module means partial shading only affects the shaded modules and saves time on installation.

Gap in the market

Aside from the Solar Show held in October in Birmingham, there are no other exhibitions serving the U.K. PV industry, apart from Ecobuild. However, Ecobuild is? a show really aimed at the commercial construction as well as home build market. The many exhibiting PV companies promoting their ground mounted systems and products, which would be more befitting of a utility-scale market, serves to highlight the gap in the U.K. market for PV events.

Edited by Becky Beetz.