Forum Solarpraxis: It's all political for Europe's big two solar powers

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The three year storage subsidy extension revealed today by German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy official Volker Hoppenbrock at the 16th Forum Solarpraxis in Berlin will likely mean Germany regains top spot as Europe’s largest solar market in 2016, Daniel Roca, Panasonic’s U.K. country manager, told pv magazine.

The likely extension of the subsidies for German storage has been warmly welcomed by attendees at the Forum. Previously, it had been confirmed that Germany would end the scheme on December 31, 2015, but Hoppenbrock’s announcement represents a complete u-turn that will likely support “moderate” growth of Germany’s solar industry.

“The extension is three years, rather than just a 12-month extension, which will give the market renewed confidence,” said Roca. “This will lead to a moderate increase in installations compared to 2015, casting away some of the uncertainty that had been clouding the future of the residential market in particular.”

Next year will see growth in Germany’s solar market continue to shift away from commercial and increasingly towards residential, where the emergence of community-based solar sharing schemes will prove a further boon for the sector, Roca added.

UK plays it political

While the German government was extending a storage-themed olive branch to its solar sector, the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) continued to obfuscate its message.

There had been confusion earlier this week over whether there proposed changes to the U.K. feed-in tariff (FIT) will be delayed for perhaps three months. The proposal to slash the FIT by as much as 87% for residential solar was due to take effect form January 1, 2016, but DECC has since stated that it is reviewing the 55,000 responses received from its consultation period and would only implement the changes after 40 parliamentary days have passed.

In governmental terms, this would mean that the FIT cuts may not be enacted until March 2016 – providing a de facto three months’ grace period for the residential and commercial sectors.

The forthcoming COP21 UN Climate Change Summit in Paris may have played on the minds of British politicians eager to not project to the world a negative image of the country’s renewable energy strategy, suggested Roca.

“The timing of this delay does seem convenient. Paris is a huge pressure point for the U.K. government. They do not want to go there with a bad image, particular in regards to solar, which is really well-received by the British public,” he said.

This possible delay in the reduction of the FIT is creating more uncertainty in the U.K. solar market, but Roca is confident that regardless of the exact details, the first quarter of 2016 is likely to be a bumper one for U.K. installation rates.

“It is pretty clear that there will be a huge rush out towards March, maybe April, and it looks likely that installation rates for the first quarter will exceed levels seen in Q1 2015.” This year, the first three months of the year saw more than 2.3 GW of solar PV capacity added in the U.K.

Further ahead, added Roca, if the FIT cuts are enacted as severely as proposed, then the U.K. residential and small-scale commercial markets could be reduced by as much as 80% – shrinking the U.K. solar market to the levels of Switzerland and Italy, and ushering Germany back to the top of the podium once more.