UK solar leaders launch comprehensive commercial rooftop PV guide

"There is enough commercial roof area in the U.K. to generate around half of the country’s electricity needs" – so says Gaynor Hartnell, editor of a new rooftop solar PV guide produced in collaboration with the BRE National Solar Centre and the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Many European nations could make a similar claim, but the U.K.’s solar industry appears particularly keen on pursuing a bottoms-up campaign to boost commercial scale solar in the country having been largely left high-and-dry by a series of government-sanctioned cuts to support and subsidy.

The launch of this new good practice guide, BRE Solar PV on commercial buildings: a guide for owners and developers, was held at the Solar PV Summit in London this week. The booklet places its focus squarely on solar PV on commercial buildings, outlining ways in which building owners and tenants can adopt solar in order to reduce their carbon footprint and gain control over their ongoing energy costs.

Various legal, financial and technical experts familiar with the current commercial rooftop solar landscape in the U.K. were called upon to lend their voice and advice to the guide, including Aniron Renewables and commercial law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.

According to Hartnell, the guide "tells landlords and tenants all they need to know about having solar PV installed. It comes with a downloadable financial model to help develop the business case, and details two routes building owners and occupiers can go down – investing in solar panels themselves, or having a third party finance the panels and entering into an agreement to buy the electricity generated."

Making it happen

Figures revealed in the guide show that the U.K. has 250,000 hectares of south-facing commercial roof space, which is enough to meet close to 50% of the country’s power needs if every square inch was covered in solar PV. Currently, just 50,000 of the U.K.’s 870,000 rooftop PV systems are located on commercial buildings, accounting for 1.2 GW of the 4.1 GW of PV installed under the U.K.’s FIT.

Contrasted to Germany, where around half of the country’s cumulative PV capacity is installed on commercial rooftops, the U.K. has a dire shortfall in commercial solar – but also an incredible opportunity.

Despite the most recent FIT cuts, commercial solar systems can still make viable financial sense for U.K. businesses, chiefly via self-financing (either outright payment or with the use of a corporate loan) or power purchase agreements (PPA) using third-party leases.

The report chooses to largely overlook the FIT, stating that "due to the uncertainty of availability and its relatively low payment level [this guide]… does not elaborate on the mechanics of the FIT in detail… it is suggested that the business case should be capable of standing up without the benefit of the FIT generation tariff."

As such, the guide calculates that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for a commercial rooftop PV system will fall below the cost of grid electricity after nine years, and continuing to fall thereafter.

A key consideration given in the report is that concerning tenants of leased properties, which is a common business arrangement for many small- and medium-sized entities in the U.K. The guide outlines leasing and repair obligations on solar panels installed on a building that they do not own, as well as the rights and responsibilities to alteration, termination and repair of the solar array and payment terms.

The report reminds would-be commercial solar customers that the FIT is not currently transferable should they decide to move premises. However, this rule is set to change for systems larger than 50 kW.

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