Posts tagged with: solar installers

The doom and gloom of the British winter in January, while not particularly cold, certainly lacks the solar energy you would expect to generate enough electricity from solar panels. Planning to make the most of scant solar resources, a manufacturer of what are considered the most efficient solar units on the market has announced that they have received MCS accreditation and are ready to install in the UK.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation is required before manufacturers can release their panels onto the UK market. Currently operational across the rest of continental Europe, the HIT series of pv cells produced by SANYO are a leader in energy conversion with a rate of around 21.6 per cent. This makes them a world leader in energy conversion efficiency and will certainly make them a sought after commodity throughout the British solar market.

The highly efficient HIT cells will operate under the feed-in tariff in the UK. The feed-in tariff is legislation which guarantees a fixed, premium rate for units of energy both used and fed back into the grid by solar micro-generators of less than 5kw. This means that British consumers will be able to benefit from increased revenues from solar panels able to generate more units of energy than competitor modules under the same solar conditions. The new panels which will become available from the 31st March 2011 will also mean that less roof space is required to generate energy, broadening the scope of households where solar installations are a viable option.

With the recent announcement that a number of foreign solar manufacturers are preparing to invest in the UK in order to take advantage of the feed-in tariff, the arrival of the HIT solar modules highlights how crucial the tariff legislation is in encouraging investment in our burgeoning renewable market. With the boost this will give to the economy in an already struggling manufacturing sector and job creation in green energy, hopefully Cameron’s government will take this on board and continue to give their backing to the legislation which makes UK solar energy viable in the long term.

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You may have seen recent announcements in the press regarding ‘solar panel giveaways’ from new companies offering to install photovoltaic panels on your home completely for free. Solar PV panels are known to be extremely expensive, so how on earth could a company offer them for free, and why would they do it?

The answer is relatively straightforward, the companies involved stand to make a considerable amount of money from the scheme. The key behind it is that installing photovoltaic panels under the feed-in tariff is a very good investment. Installing them on your home is especially good because the feed-in tariff pays the most money for small PV installations. Anyone deciding on where to invest their money should definitely look at getting a solar installation, it’s a tax-free, index linked investment that can be a great help to families and the environment.

Unsurprisingly for the UK economy however, where a good investment is to be found it doesn’t take long for the investment banks to come lurking. All of the free solar schemes offered are actually based on investment funds set-up by a well known UK investment bank. The fund is created to pay for solar installations on suitable UK homes, and then all the revenues from the solar panels go directly back to the bank. Some electricity savings are passed to the resident, but the big majority of returns go straight to the bank.

The second critical ingredient to this arrangement is the network of installers to design and install the installations.  In the UK there are not a huge number of these installer networks.  Behind each of these solar panel schemes is a different network such as the Mark Group and Eaga, firms which have over a thousand installers. They grew by doing boiler replacements and installation fitting for utilities such as British Gas. This arrangement means company who actually sells you the system is in fact a middle man between you, the bank and installer. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but its important to understand what is going on.

The other way of looking at it is that the investment banks are providing a service. Not everyone is in the position to invest 10k in a solar PV system and the ‘free solar’ schemes allow a wider range of people to experience solar energy and benefit from it. The arrangement means that the feed-in tariff payments go to the investment bank, but the savings in electricity bills at least are retained by the resident.

Overall these financing schemes will help to quickly grow the industry in the UK, but beware of how they work and know that you would make a lot more money if you self-financed. In Germany and other more mature solar energy markets, what you find is that ‘solar loans’ are widely available. This is the cheapest way of financing a solar installation. You just get a loan for however much you need in order to buy your system and pay it off with the feed-in tariff revenue. It means you still get to own the system and receive at least a portion of the feed-in tariff.

So if you would like solar panels but can’t afford to invest 10k over 25 years then getting some sort of financing is a good idea. It might just be worth waiting for better financial products rather than lining the pockets of investment bankers however.

The long discussed changes to the German feed-in tariff are still in debate after a report released Monday by Germany’s regional government assembly called for a relaxation of the planned cuts. This means that the changes, which were originally planned to come into effect in April and have already been pushed back until June, may be yet again delayed. The bill we continue to pass its way through the German parliament over the next two months.

Whilst everyone appears to be in agreement that the feed-in tariff should be lowered faster than originally planned in light of dramatic price reductions in PV systems, there is controversy over much it should be lowered and how the structure of the tariff should be changed. There is a big debate for instance, concerning the level of a ‘self-consumption’ bonus, whereby producers of solar energy are rewarded for any electricity they use themselves rather than export to the grid. Also in discussion is the difference in feed-in tariff paid to ground mounted solar farms compared to rooftop installations.

Meanwhile, solar installers are experiencing a continuation of strong demand. At the end of 2009, the rate of new installations reached an all-time high with around 2GW installed in the fourth quarter alone as customers rushed to install before the 2009/2010 feed-in tariff drop. The threat of new cuts in the feed-in tariff are only increasing the incentive to install in 2010.

An interesting pattern is emerging, whereby the PV market experiences surges in the run-up to a feed-in tariff change. This cyclical pattern creates extra incentive for the government to decrease the feed-in tariff and looking at the market it seems that prices are set to fall further over the next year or so. These factors may well push us into the realm of parity with retail electricity prices in Germany by 2013.

In the UK, the feed-in tariff is unlikely to be altered before 2012, although we will carefully scrutinize the aftermath of the forthcoming general election. Already commentators in the UK are speculating that the UK may experience its own mini ‘PV-rush’ in the run up to 2012. However, as Germany has repeatedly shown, one ‘PV rush’ can lead to another.

Several of the thin film PV manufacturers (see previous article) have announced ambitious plans to start selling their products in large volumes. In particular, NanoSolar, Solibro, Solar Frontier and MiaSole are makers of the new “CIGS” type of modules that promise to achieve high efficiency and lower cost than the thin film modules currently available. It will take time for these new technologies to be accepted for their reliability, but it is likely that at least some of the companies offering these products will succeed. News has been announced that a solar park using Nanosolar’s modules is already under construction.

Several of the developers of large PV projects in Germany, such as Phoenix Solar and Gehrlicher, are currently testing new technologies whilst at the same time being cautious about their forecasts for the German market. Phoenix Solar recently announced that it cannot provide details of its development strategy until the details of the German feed-in tariff have been finalized.

These developments should act to further decrease the price of PV.