Clean Energy Live: where is UK solar growth going to come from?

The former Solar Energy U.K. trade show changed its name to Clean Energy Live this year and is taking place in Birmingham, England, from Tuesday 4 to Thursday 6 October. The show has also changed its point of focus, shifting from purely solar PV to various clean energy technologies that aim to provide answers to the U.K.’s energy quest.

Nevertheless, solar PV has occupied a central role in the seminars so far, with the most informative account coming from Finlay Colville, head of intelligence at Solar Media.

Colville acknowledged that large-scale solar PV in the U.K. has been driven from the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROC) scheme, while rooftop PV is mainly installed via the FIT scheme.

For reasons that have to do with the administration of the ROCs, the U.K. has experienced a spike of newly added large-scale installations in the first quarter of each year for the past few years, including 2016. Since the ROC scheme has been scrapped, and only some past-licensed grandfathered projects are currently being installed, the country will add only a few more large-scale installations by the end of March 2017, when the deadline for grandfathered projects ends. However, such capacity is not expected to be significant and mainly concerns sites that can develop projects with 1.2 ROCs.

The dominant part of the PV market now is rooftop installations that come with new buildings, Colville said. Again though, Colville added, due to the government drastically cutting the FITs in January 2016, residential PV installations today dropped dramatically to about where the residential market was when the FIT scheme started in the U.K. a few years ago.

Some more systems are expected to be installed in the small commercial rooftop PV segment (these are systems less than 50 kW each) that often come through city council budgets, Colville noted.

The most disappointing segment of the U.K. PV business today is large commercial rooftops (concerning systems larger than 50 KW), argued Colville. “This market never really went anywhere in the U.K., feed-in tariffs changed so quickly that companies didn’t have time to establish a business model,” he explained.

Last but not least, Colville left a positive note in reference to two interesting cases. The first case regards some water utilities that have announced plans to cut costs by developing PV plants. This is the case for the Scottish Water, for instance, which has committed to a £9 million solar PV investment to reduce the company’s emissions and running costs. starting in 2017.

The second case refers to local councils, who increasingly have begun to implement their own sustainability plans and emissions reduction targets. Colville talked of a 7 MW council solar farm project that also aims to include four storage systems on site. It remains to be seen if such projects will take off.

Finally, a growing trend in the U.K. market is the asset acquisitions in the secondary market. The industry has seen more than 1 GW of PV assets changing hands this year, while half of the U.K.’s large-scale installations are now owned by just five or six companies, revealed Colville.