Despite the recent government cuts to Feed-in-Tariffs (FITs) for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects over 50kW, Andrew Lee of Sharp Solar explains that while the cuts are potentially damaging to an industry beginning to thrive, the opportunity for the domestic installation market remains as strong as ever
It only took 352 days for the self proclaimed greenest government to go back on its commitment to building a low carbon Britain. Introduced in April 2010, the FiTs scheme enabled the country’s solar and renewable energy industry to grow substantially by providing incentive payments for the amount of electricity produced, additional bonuses for power exported into the grid and a reduction on standard electricity bills. Aimed at households, schools, hospitals and various businesses, the tariffs were introduced to help increase the level of renewable energy in the UK.
However, on the 18th March, energy minister Greg Barker proposed that from 1st August, solar installations rated at 50-150kW would see a 42% cut to 19p p/kWh. Medium sized solar installations of 100kW could see incentives cut by more than 40%, while large renewable projects could see subsidies slashed by more than 70%.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Over the last year, FiTs have been a great success and have stimulated green growth, driven technological innovation, cut tonnes of carbon emissions and created many new jobs. Although it is difficult to gain an exact figure for the number of employees in the UK’s PV industry, the FiTs have boosted numbers dramatically, with a recent survey indicating an increase of around 230% between 2009 and 2010 (pre- and post-FiTs). Since FiTs were introduced, solar power has been the driving force, accounting for 93% of registered installations. According to Ofgem, there have been more than 11,000 renewable energy projects, the vast majority of which are solar PV panels, while between April 2010 and March this year, there were 24,744 total installations registered to participate in the FiTs.
In a period of rising unemployment and economic uncertainty, the UK PV industry was bucking the trend. In addition to the top line benefits, jobs were being created in management, sales, advice and other technical support areas, while re-training possibilities were offering legions of installers and servicing personnel opportunities to benefit from this new industry.
There is no doubt that the cuts will affect the growth in jobs across the PV industry. However, the domestic installation market in the UK remains very healthy and continues to represent a fantastic opportunity for professional installers.
Reasons to be optimistic
There’s no denying that solar and renewable energy incentives will remain fundamental to the long term direction of the UK for both economic and ecological reasons. The UK has given itself 29 years (until 2050) to reduce carbon emissions by 80%. Rising oil prices have brought into focus the need for reliable energy supplies and a mix of low carbon energy to protect ourselves from volatile fossil fuel markets and disruption to supplies from unrest abroad. PV is undoubtedly integral to this.
As these fuel prices continue to rise, UK homeowners are hungry for ways to reduce their bills and have shown quite an appetite for solar technology. According to research, 56% of homeowners would install solar panels on their home and the solar panel installation market in the UK is expected to be worth £500m a year by 2015. For electricians, roofers, building contractors and anybody wishing to develop an understanding of this sector, this provides a very real incentive to learn comprehensive, high quality solar installation skills.
The growing demand of those looking for an opportunity to capitalise on this, has led to a series of renewable energy academies, installer schools and academic courses springing up throughout the UK. In partnership with Cleaner Air Solutions, Sharp Solar recently opened the Sharp Renewable Energy Academy to train 25 to 50 people a month. An average sized £15,000 solar installation typically earns the installer around £3,500, so the training usually pays for itself with a single installation. Striving for the highest installation standards in the UK is the key to building consumer confidence. Sharp research shows the vast majority of homeowners (86%) would only trust an accredited solar installer to fit their solar panels.
Since the FiTs were introduced it has been an unprecedented success for businesses, industry and consumers. The figures speak for themselves – the FiTs kick-started industry growth, created jobs in the private sector, and laid foundations for a future decarbonised grid. Whilst the cuts are completely counterintuitive, we mustn’t take our eyes off the end game.
For the UK to have any chance of meeting the targets of carbon reduction set out by the EU, solar will have a prominent role to play and this is going to be driven by skilled professionals with foresight. We must be unswerving in our commitment to building the UK green economy to rival the world leaders in the space, and the UK domestic installation market is the stand-out opportunity. Now is not the time to lose faith in FiTs. It is essential that the political debate does not overshadow what has been a hugely successful year, and the forecast for professional installers in the UK remains sunny.