Leading UK solar developers adjust to new market conditions

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Amid the inevitable April Fool’s jokes, today’s date was always likely to trigger a flurry of news from the U.K. solar market – and it did not disappoint.

Since May 2014, the industry has known that the attractive Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) support scheme for renewable energy projects would be removed for solar PV installations larger than 5 MW from today’s date.

The decision by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to end the ROC scheme two years early for solar projects was met with derision, but also determination – a determination by many developers to complete and connect as many megawatts of solar PV as they could, allied to a resolve to diversify into other, growing sections of the market.

The past few days have seen such strategies bearing fruit, as expected. From Solarcentury ramping up its commercial rooftop activity to U.S.-owned Conergy accelerating the pace of its large-scale development over the past three months, the U.K. solar landscape has never been busier, nor more intriguing, than right now.

Conergy completes 230 MW

Conergy announced today that is has installed 230 MW of large-scale solar PV capacity in the U.K. to date, with 105 MW added over the past three months alone as the company stepped up its construction efforts before the ROC removal deadline.

Since the beginning of 2014, 22 solar PV projects have been grid-connected by Conergy, on farms ranging in size from 2.8 MW to 37.2 MW, the majority built on low-grade agricultural land in southern England and Wales.

"We are very pleased to have completed this large portfolio of projects safely and on time," said Conergy COO Alexander Gorski. "I’d like to thank both our customers and our development and construction partners for backing Conergy over the last 15 months."

If that sounded like a "thank you and goodnight", then far from it – Conergy UK MD Robert Goss added that the company sees no limits to solar’s potential in the U.K., adding that the company is eager to continue to explore the PV possibilities in the country, much of which will be focused on the commercial rooftop sector.

"We will work with our development partners and network to reach and surpass the government’s target for solar of 4% of the energy mix," Goss said.

Leading U.K. developer Solarcentury signed off the ROC-backed years with a similarly bullish announcement. The company revealed this week that it has successfully completed 225 MW of solar PV capacity in the past financial year – all of which was connected at 1.4 ROC.

"Connecting 225 MW this ROC year is testament to the hardworking team at Solarcentury," said Solarcentury CEO Frans van den Heuvel. "It demonstrates our ability and commitment to deliver solar projects to tight deadlines for our customers, despite the winter weather conditions. Our close working relationships with partners also enabled us to connect this impressive amount to deadline."

According to the Solar Trade Association (STA), the first three months of this year has seen as much large-scale PV connected to the U.K. grid as in the whole of 2014.

Solarcentury’s commercial movement

Solarcentury has confirmed that it will continue to construct solar PV farms under 5 MW in size in order to still qualify for the ROC. Additionally, the company also gave a tangible boost to the anticipated growth of the commercial rooftop sector this week with the news that it has completed a 250 kW rooftop solar array atop the distribution center of the fashion retailer, JD Williams.

The system at Briar Mill, near Manchester, England, will produce enough solar electricity to meet 12% of the building’s annual energy needs, and will lower JD’s carbon emissions by 109 tons per year.

"We applaud JD Williams for taking a long-term view of its energy needs and demonstrating a genuine commitment to reducing its carbon footprint," said Suzanna Lashford, head of U.K. commercial sales at Solarcentury. "The system gives JD a stable source of cheap energy for the next 30 years, reducing reliance on costly grid energy. The money it will save on its energy bills can be re-invested in the company – and the solar installation is also a savvy use of roof space that would otherwise be unused."

The installation follows shortly after ET Solar announced in March the completion of a 6.1 MW array at the Marks & Spencer distribution center, becoming in the process the largest single rooftop solar array in the U.K.

Lark Energy Commercial to offer SunEdison PPA

Announced at the recent Ecobuild exhibition, SunEdison’s new zero-down power purchase agreement (PPA) plan for rooftop solar will be offered by British developer Lark Energy for larger clients and businesses in another sign of the maturation of the U.K.’s commercial rooftop market, and the evolution of the wider PV industry in the country.

The PPA boasts no capital outlay, no roof lease and a simplified contractual arrangement that boasts up to 50% energy cost savings immediately.

"We know that there are a growing number of companies who have identified solar as a key element in their carbon reduction strategy but that do not necessarily have either the spare capital available, or can justify investing in non-core business at this time," said Lark Energy MD Jonathan Selwyn. "This new product offers them the cost and carbon reduction benefits without having to bear the upfront capital commitment, or taking on a complex and costly roof lease arrangement."

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