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Welcoming an announcement by Energy Minister Greg Barker today (Thursday 24 May 2012) setting out a clear plan for solar power to 2020, Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said:

“After a year and a half of crippling uncertainty, the sun is starting to shine again on the solar industry.

“Greg Barker’s 2020 vision will allow solar firms to get back on their feet, protect jobs and plan for the future – but to avoid more fiascos any mechanism for setting subsidy payments must be managed independently of Government.

“The Energy Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create jobs and tackle high fuel bills by switching our electricity supplies to clean British energy – but current plans will leave the nation hooked on costly gas and risky nuclear power.

“Developing the nation’s huge renewable energy potential will help drive us out of recession – the Government must make it easier for communities, schools and hospitals to plug into clean power.”

This week, Friends of the Earth and the Federation of Small Businesses wrote to Energy Secretary Ed Davey, urging him to end the uncertainty over the feed-in tariff that is hampering the solar industry, and to set out a clear plan to 2020 that enables the sector to grow steadily and with confidence.

 

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1.    The letter to Energy Secretary Ed Davey from Friends of the Earth and the Federation of Small Businesses is available at: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/factsheets/ed_davey_letter_may_2012.pdf

2.    In February 2012 Friends of the Earth welcomed the Government’s announcement of a new ambition to deliver 22GW by 2020 through solar power – saying it was a first step towards putting the industry on a stable footing and recognising its significant potential. http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/solar_review_09022012.html
3.    Earlier this year Friends of the Earth won a legal challenge against the Government’s premature cuts to solar feed in tariffs, which pulled the rug from under the solar sector and led to around 6,000 job losses.
http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/government_loses_appeal_over_unlawful_solar_cuts_25012012.html

4.    Friends of the Earth’s Clean British Energy campaign is urging the Government to listen to the public and transform our broken energy system by developing clean and affordable power from our wind, sun and water – backed by 85 per cent of the public. For too long the Big Six energy companies have locked Britain into importing costly gas and coal – causing our fuel bills to rocket. Backing renewable power and cutting energy waste will stabilise fuel bills and create new jobs. To find out more visit: www.cleanbritishenergy.co.uk.

The Government has today announced plans to ensure the future of the Feed-in Tariffs scheme to make it more predictable. Transparency, longevity and certainty are at the heart of the new improved scheme.

The reforms will provide greater confidence to consumers and industry investing in exciting renewable technologies such as solar power, anaerobic digestion, micro-CHP, wind and hydro power.

The Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme provides a subsidy, paid for by all consumers through their energy bills, enabling small scale renewable and low carbon technologies to  compete against  higher carbon forms of electricity generation.

The surge of solar PV installations in the latter part of last year, due to a 45% reduction in estimated installation costs since 2009, has placed a huge strain on the FITs budget.

Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: “Today we are announcing plans to improve the Feed-in Tariffs scheme. Instead of a scheme for the few the new improved scheme will deliver for the many. Our new plans will see almost two and a half times more installations than originally projected by 2015 which is good news for the sustainable growth of the industry.  We are proposing a more predictable and transparent scheme as the costs of technologies fall, ensuring a long term, predictable rate of return that will closely track changes in prices and deployment.

“I want to see a bright and vibrant future for small scale renewables in the UK and allow each of the technologies to reach their potential where they can get to a point where they can stand on their own two feet without the need for subsidy sooner rather than later.”

A BETTER FIT SCHEME FOR CONSUMERS AND COMMUNITIES

  • A tariff of 21p/kWh will take effect from 1st April this year for domestic-size solar panels with an eligibility date on or after 3rd March 2012. Other tariff reductions apply for larger installations.
  • The Department has listened carefully to feedback on the energy efficiency proposals that we put forward in the consultation of 31st October. Properties installing solar panels on or after 1st April this year will be required to produce an Energy Performance Certificate rating of ‘D’ or above  to qualify for a full FIT. The previous proposals for a ‘C’ rating or a commitment for all Green Deal measures to be installed was seen as impractical at this stage. We estimate that about half of all properties are already eligible for a ‘D’ rating.
  • From 1st April 2012, new ‘multi-installation’ tariff rates set at 80% of the standard tariffs will be introduced for solar PV installations where a single individual or organisation is already receiving FITs for other solar PV installations. This reflects the lower costs of such installations, as they benefit from the economies of scale. Based on the feedback  received, the threshold is set at more than 25 installations. Individuals or organisations with 25 or fewer  installations will still be eligible for the individual rate. DECC is now consulting on a proposal that social housing, community projects and distributed energy schemes be exempt from these multi-installation tariff rates.
  • The tariff for micro-CHP installations will be increased to recognise the benefits this technology could bring and to encourage its development.

A BETTER FIT SCHEME FOR INDUSTRY

  • In line with the evidence of falling costs for solar PV, DECC is proposing to peg the subsidy levels to cost reductions and industry growth to provide more certainty for future investments.  This will ensure that subsidy levels keep in step with the market. It builds on the best of the existing German system and will remove the need for emergency reviews.
  • Using budget flexibility to cover the overspend resulting from high PV uptake this year, while still allowing £460 million for new installations over the Spending Review period. This won’t have any impact on consumer bills beyond the agreed overall cap on renewable subsidies as it will primarily be funded from an under spend on the budget allocated for large-scale renewables.

 

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With two significant reductions in the feed-in tariffs for commercial systems taking place within the last twelve months, it’s understandable that the UK industry is taking stock of what has occurred. It’s obvious now that the government incentives introduced for commercial solar power were too generous to sustain. It’s also becoming increasingly evident that the Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC)  will use its power to swiftly alter government incentives when they deem necessary. What needs to be contemplated forwards from this is that with an experienced and industry conscious awareness commercial solar power can still establish viability in the UK. This article will explain why.

Utilising the economies of scale and potentially significant savings that companies and business owners can make on their energy usage, the commercial market holds a great deal of potential for investors. There are nuances to consider however, and the handling of the feed-in tariff incentives by the UK Government has not added to the security of the prospect for many people. This does not mean that potential projects have become more risk than their worth, it simply means that project management must protect investments using the lessons of the past and innovations of the future to minimise risk and maximise gain. Sound like a familiar set of circumstances for most kinds of investment? It is, so let’s analyse this in greater detail.

The Current State of Commercial Solar Incentives

Feed-in Tariffs

All information provided in this article is based on the proposed changes to the feed-in tariff, outlined on the DECC website here.

There are two purely financial benefits that arise from the feed-in tariffs.

1. The ‘Generation Tariff’ is paid for every kWh generated by an eligible system whether it is used on site or exported to the grid. The proposed new rates are:

  • Tariff for >4-10kW PV installs = 16.8p/kWh (in year one*)
  • Tariff for >10-50kW PV installs = 15.2p/kWh*
  • Tariff for >50kW – 150kW = 12.9p/kWh*
  • Tariff for >150kW – 250kW = 12.9p/kWh*
  • Tariff for >250kW – 5MW = 8.5p/kWh*

*This rate will only apply for the first year of the systems operation. It will then increase based on the Retail Price Index’s (RPI) inflation over it’s 25 year lifespan.

2. The second aspect is the ‘Export tariff’, and this remains unchanged from the DECC proposals. It is a flat rate of 3 pence per kWh generated from an eligible system, unused on site and sent onto the grid.

Energy Savings

The third benefit that comes directly from generating solar energy from a system concerns the energy usage and bills on site. Earnings can be significant, and are established when property owners compare the new tariff rates with current bills. The rise of energy prices make this aspect of clear benefit, and just as importantly more effective the sooner the installation is carried out.

The ‘Energy Bill Savings’ are calculations on what the cost would have been to buy a kWh from the grid when it is instead generated from the solar power system and used on site. More complicated to calculate because it relies upon an analysis of the tariff times and rates of the properties energy bills, a Solar Selections Commercial Broker is trained to assist customers with establishing these figures and their influence on rates of return.

There are also a number of environmental, corporate image and sustainability benefits that are associated. Solar Selections Commercial designs projects that take into account these goals and provides suggestions for how to maximise their impact on the installation. It’s case specific, and again best discussed with your project managing broker.

Primary Areas of Development and Potential

Finance

The reality of many investment opportunities is that they are often capitalised upon during unexpected times. So long as the commodity in question is deemed to be a) increasing in value, b) possessive of a rare quality and c) stable, investment will find it and want to share in the profits. Commercial solar power is an investment in renewable energy, and all three aspects are most definitely upheld by this commodity. Renewable energy is considered a viable investment in the world today, and this is upheld despite the tariff changes in the UK.

For these reasons, private investment is expected to come into focus for the commercial market here moving into 2012. Through conglomerates and syndicates lines of capital are being opened up across the UK for these projects, through firms such as Solar Selections. These lines of capital will come into play as soon as the appropriate figures regarding returns on investment are established. So let’s look at some ideas on how this can happen.

Suggestions

First of all, the price per watt of solar components needs to continue to be driven down. In the UK we have excellent prices considering our almost complete lack of onshore manufacturing and assembly plants, but more can be done. One stigma that immediately needs to be overcome is the focus towards brand name solar products, especially on panels. Distributors and importers alike need to develop more robust relationships with the largest manufacturers in the world such as Suntech, Trina, JA Solar, Yingli and First Solar and educate their customers on the technical differences and advantages on these modules. Moreover, the public need to be educated on the differences between panel brands in a more objective manner.

Secondly, finance when sourced for large scale solar installations needs to become more comprehensively advantageous to business. Zero upfront capital outlay, tax benefits and perpetually positive cash flow positions are a small number of unique approaches as yet unexplored by the mainstream finance market; see our full article for further details. Solar Selections Commercial is in the process of introducing an exclusive package currently operating in our other countries for our clients that addresses these points and many more benefits. We encourage interested parties to contact our commercial management team for further information.

Finally, there are the more generalised energy efficiency and sustainability overhaul approaches to commercial properties that are to be more widely and professionally used. This involves considering a complete energy efficiency upgrade plan for a property with solar energy merely one aspect among a wide range of implementations to be considered. By way of example this may include installing energy efficient/motion activated lighting and monitors, condensing CPU and modem hardware into micro-managed energy efficient hardware and software, advanced telecommunication and video link software to curb travel and conference logistic costs and simpler measures such as anti-draft stoppers under doors or power point energy savers. Considering the DECC’s proposals regarding implementation of Environmental Performance Certificates (EPC) into eligibility for the solar feed-in tariffs, such practices may indeed become necessary for solar projects with the coming of 2012.

EPC’s are essentially a summary of a property’s energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions. They are used as ratings for all properties bought, sold or rented in the UK. The DECC’s suggestions have centred around only allowing properties with certain minimum EPC ratings to be eligible for solar FiT’s, effectively closing off the tariffs to properties judged too inefficient.

Once again, Solar Selections will be at the forefront of this approach offering options from our network of energy management consultancy firms to our clients that comprehensively address energy efficiency and emission standards.

Conclusion

A midst the controversy and decisive nature of the UK government’s cuts to the solar feed-in tariffs last year, the truth of the matter is that it has been the most successful 12 months in the solar industry’s history. The Commercial solar industry has experienced only a glimpse of it’s true potential, and whilst it is hard for some installers and potential investors to see right now, the sector has its best years ahead of it. By developing and utilising proven approaches to aspects such as finance, energy use reduction and energy efficiency, feasibility will be re-established and become accessible to many thousands of business owners and investors. The international examples are there for all to see, and with the exciting development of prospects such as our Operational Lease arrangement, Solar Selections will be at the helm of the budding commercial solar industry of 2012 and beyond.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

jarrah@solarselections.co.uk

T: 0844 567 9835

 

Much hope was pinned on Copenhagen and Cancun as a way of highlighting the case for renewable energy and prompting large scale investment in green energy. Government’s globally assumed that private investment would pour in, helping to bring the big world economies closer to meeting climate change targets, win votes and of course revitalise struggling economies with a vibrant green energy industry. As it was subsequently found out, the world financial crisis was such that rather than see the universal growth of green energy, some sectors were forced to make drastic, indeed devastating cut backs.

The world recession has had a detrimental effect in certain areas of renewable energy. Certainly Spain, once a world leader in solar pv thanks to its feed-in tariff policy suffered greatly from cuts made to the tariff by Zapatero’s government in the face of a Spanish economy on the brink of collapse. However, according to the Director of the UK Carbon Trust Ben Sykes, the recession has not necessarily meant a downturn in all sectors,

“The big, exciting stuff that was going to come out of a very successful global conference didn’t happen, but you have steady growth in a number of technology areas”

The world of finance certainly recognises that despite cut backs in certain areas of renewable energy, other sectors including solar pv have continued to go from strength to strength in the UK. Ever since the introduction of the feed-in tariff in April 2010, investment in solar energy has rocketed with an impressive uptake in solar panels taking advantage of the healthy profits to be made. With regards to efficiencies, the head of HSBC’s climate change centre of excellence Nick Robins stated,

“The learning curve has accelerated during the crisis, particularly in solar.”

The UK solar feed-in tariff, legislation which guarantees fixed, premium rates for units of energy either consumed or fed back into the national grid is designed to incentivise investment in solar energy, traditionally expensive to set up. Already the uptake in solar on the back of the tariffs has exceeded expectations with over 10,000 panels installed so far. As was predicted, the uptake in solar along with the growing competition in the UK market has caused prices to fall a little bit closer to ‘grid parity’, the holy grail of renewable energy. According to energy expert Anthony Froggatt, Chinese manufacturing volumes have led to grid costs being the equivalent of nuclear in the US.