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Posts tagged with: UK feed-in-tariff

Recent changes announced to the feed-in tariff were designed to encourage investment in smaller scale, household solar panel projects away from larger scale solar farms which were hoping to tap into the tariff mechanism on an industrial level. While commendable in theory, the reality is that householders and small scale investors simply can’t afford the steep upfront costs in installing solar equipment. While it is of course possible to generate long term revenue from solar projects by tapping into the solar feed-in tariff, photovoltaic solar installation can cost as much as £15,000, capital which most would find hard to raise. This is where critics believe that banks in refusing to lend to small businesses are crippling the solar industry in its infancy.

Already in the UK there have been over 31,000 solar installations amounting to 86MW with 81MW of these being domestic, roof mounted projects. For this reason, you would imagine that the solar industry in the UK has already shown potential lenders that there are returns to be made through investing in photovoltaic equipment especially when twinned with a government protected tariff mechanism like the one introduced last April. Lee Summers of Alumet Renewable Technology stated that,

“It would not be difficult for Government to instruct the state-subsidized banks to recognise its own feed-in-tariff scheme as suitable collateral.”

However, despite the clear evidence from abroad that there are indeed healthy yields to be taken from solar pv, the reluctance of the banks to lend is prohibiting a huge number of people to install solar panels. Summers went onto add that,

“For most homeowners they are unable to benefit from the 8 to 10% that the FiT guarantees to domestic generators because they don’t have the £12,000 or £15,000 they need to install the photovoltaic panels in the first place. Banks do not regard the Government’s 25 year index-linked, commitment as collateral for a loan. It is totally unfair that only the most ‘well-off’ individuals in a community can benefit from solar technology. The feed-in-tariffs are paid for by levies on every energy bill and so every home owner should have the opportunity to access the FiT.”


With the details of the much anticipated (and much debated) UK feed-in tariff announced, discussions are already taking place as to whether the rates will suffice to kick start the fledgling solar industry in Britain.

With the UK as one of the last major countries in the EU to implement a feed-in tariff mechanism as a means of boosting solar investment attractiveness, we have already given the opinion on this website that the government seems to be taking reals steps towards a viable renewable energy economy.

Praise

Coming under praise following the government’s lengthy consultation process have been key features of the tariff mechanism such as 25 year lifespan which will help to secure investments, inflation linkage , and calculations that the average annual ROI for sub 4kW installations will be around 7-8%.

With European tariff models having already pioneered the way through trial and error, it seems that the UK government has taken heed of some of the potential pitfalls that can harm the effectiveness of feed-in tariff mechanisms.

Certainly, in their annual Solar Attractiveness Indices, Ernst & Young consistently look favourably upon those nations with strong, long term tariff rates which offer security and real value to money for investors. With the recently announced tariff details it certainly appears that everything is in place for a strong solar industry to develop in the UK as investors are enticed by the opportunities of this new market.

With a history of incentivising renewable micro-generators, energy suppliers, Good Energy are well aware of the benefits that can be achieved from the recently announced feed-in tariff system, with CEO Juliet Davenport commenting that,

“Good Energy has shown for many years that financial incentives work on a commercial scale, benefiting generators at minimal cost to the energy consumer when delivered effectively.”

Solar thermal potential

The announced details of a further thermal tariff to be implemented next year also seem to have exceeded most expectations with regards to the solar thermal industry in the UK.

Tariffs offered for micro-generation using solar thermal technology will significantly boost the UK solar thermal industry as Chief Executive of Micropower Council Dave Sowden has stated,

“We particularly welcome the significant boost given to heat technologies such as solar thermal and heat pumps, and the recognition by Government of the crucial role microCHP is going to play in reducing carbon emissions for those with gas-fired central heating,”

Criticism

Unsurprisingly, criticism has been voiced from environmental campaign group and strong advocates of widespread renewable energy use Friends of the Earth (FOE).

With the government having set a target of generating 10 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, there is a concern that not enough is being done to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. While solarfeedintariff.co.uk amongst others have been happily surprised by the tariff announcement, FOE maintains that the rates will not be sufficient to attract investment in the industry in the face of strong competition from abroad. FOE campaigner Dave Timms has commented that,

“Installing renewable technologies will now be a good investment for many homes – but farmers, businesses, communities and others will get little or no extra incentive to invest in clean electricity.”

FOE maintain that in order for the UK solar industry to take off, just as the German industry did, the return on investment will have to be more around the 10 per cent mark rather than the 6-7 per cent figure in order to attract the levels of investment required to render the industry viable in the long term.

Solarfeedintariff.co.uk believes that the UK has a great role to play in the future of renewable energy generation and that with the feed-in tariff in place, 2010 is going to be a very exciting year.

If you are interested in what the tariff could mean for your home or business, or want information on the investment potential of solar in the UK, this website will be regularly updated with news and investment products to meet your needs.

On Friday rumours emerged that the German government is likely to significantly reduce the price paid for electricity produced by solar panels. Furthermore, the reduction may be made as early as April rather than in July as previously anticipated.

We expect an official announcement this week and will update you then but the rumours alone have already sparked hefty losses in solar energy stocks around the world. This is not surprising considering how large a proportion of the world solar market Germany represents. In 2009, close to 4GW of solar energy capacity were installed. The next biggest markets, Italy, France and the US were a maximum of 1 GW each. If demand drops significantly in Germany, it could lead to more pain for solar equipment manufacturers.

Personally, I believe a significant reduction in Germany’s feed-in-tariff is a good thing for the industry. Things got out of hand in 2009 as installers and manufacturers (particularly inverter manufacturers) struggled to meet demand. Everyone wants the solar industry to grow, but it must be stable growth. Too much too soon and there isn’t enough time for problems to resolved.

For example, in the southern part of Germany, solar energy makes up close to 5% of all energy production now. This is already causing problems for the electricity grid because of the intermittency of solar power. If solar energy were to grow more slowly, these problems could be dealt with as they arise.

The other problem of the feed-in-tariff is that it was making people too rich. Solar farms in Germany are providing 10-15% annual returns virtually risk free. No hedge fund can offer that. Given the risk of a solar investment, the return needs only to compete with long-term savings accounts, so if they provide just a 4% return, that should still be attractive. It is hard to predict what the effect of the drop in feed in tariff will be. Certainly, if the return on investment is lowered, there will be a reduced incentive and less of the ‘urgency’ which gave rise to the boom of last year. However, if there is still a reasonable, positive return on investment, then large numbers of people will still take up the opportunity. If someone handing out 20 pound notes switches to giving out 10 pound notes, would people start walking away?

On the verge of releasing details of the UK feed-in-tariff, what does is the message for UK policy makers observing this 17% cut? Why should they listen to the voices calling for an increase in the tariff whilst all our neighbours are busy cutting theirs? I would ask the government not to waiver in their commitment to growing the UK solar industry. The market in Germany is one thousand times greater than that of the UK (4 gigawatts compared to roughly 4 megawatts last year). The Germans have created an efficient industry with that is able to provide solar installations at competitive prices. The UK industry has not got off the ground yet. We must provide a decent incentive so that people begin to accept the concept of solar energy in the UK.

The experience of Germany shows that subsidies do not have to be provided forever, however the industry must be there before you can scale back.

My message to policy makers is this; we have a lot of catching out up to do, so don’t lose your nerve before we have even started.