From zero to hero: UK PV market resurges at Ecobuild 2014

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From 2016, the requirement that all new homes built in the UK must be "zero carbon" has helped to galvanise the house building industry to deploy solar PV. According to Suki Matharu, a U.K. sales manager for Chinese inverter producer Omnik New Energy, installing solar PV panels is a way for developers and builders to comply with regulations, affordably. The company’s smallest single phase inverter, the Omniksol-1k-TL, has been a popular choice for new build homes with PV installations during the past year.

Jason McCabe, an engineer at solar mounting systems supplier Renusol, concurs: "Compared with a few years ago, there is definitely more interest from the home building and construction firms," he told pv magazine. McCabe estimates that a good 20% of the new build construction industry is now implementing solar technology – PV as well as solar thermal – in projects. Companies include Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey.

"We have been following the policy developments in the U.K. with great attention and we now define it as the most important market for us in Europe," says Wuxi Suntech’s new CEO Eric Luo, especially within the residential rooftop and the utility-scale ground-mounted segment. Luo cites a radical renewables policy, and plans under the Energy Act 2013, to introduce a strike price for large-scale PV developments as contributing factors.

The acquisition of Wuxi Suntech by Shunfeng will mean that in addition to module manufacturing the company plans to expand into the downstream end of the PV industry to serve the U.K. as well as other markets.

Buoyant end-use demand from utility, residential and commercial

For Kawa Capital Management-owned Conergy – a supplier of PV system products and services – land availability, large investment funds and strong investor demand are key drivers for utility-scale ground-mounted projects in the U.K., while the Code for Sustainable Homes and other building regulations are driving demand for rooftop solar.

The mid-sized commercial market, too, is growing as manufacturers and businesses look to offset rising energy costs with solar panel installations.

Commercial projects Conergy has supplied include London Southend Airport, while Ecobuild regular Solaredge has supplied inverters for a rooftop PV installation for the University of Cambridge.

In terms of new products, Solarmax exhibited its new 30-32 kW three-phase strong inverter for commercial and industrial projects, and Renusol debuted a much simpler mounting system designed for flat roofs.

Several exhibitors are a confident that the U.K. may install as much as 2 GW in 2014. Conergy’s U.K. pipeline stands at 200 MW, part of an overall global pipeline of 1 GW. "Across the board, this is about an industry scaling up, and as more end-customers experience successes, deployment of PV is steadily expanding across the country. The dominance of solar farms in terms of capacity added is likely to continue for at least the next year," Conergy’s U.K. MD Robert Goss told pv magazine.

The U.K. is also attracting new entrants. Exhibitors at Ecobuild included Lightway, a second tier Chinese module manufacturer. Citing anti-dumping duties as reasons, Max Chang, Lightway’s vice president of sales for Europe, said of its interest in the U.K.: "It is now very difficult for a company of our size to sell modules in Europe, so we have had to adapt our business, to develop and finance projects and sell these on. The U.K. is one market where we are looking to do this."