UK PV conference: Depressing, downbeat and dead?

The overall state of affairs for the PV market in the UK is an uncertain mood after the tariff system was halted in late 2010.
By Ash Sharma, Research Director, IMS Research May 16, 2011

Solarpraxis’ UK PV Summit was a somewhat more sombre affair than the last UK PV conference I attended which was full of optimism (instead of a general sense of depression). What a difference 6 months makes. The main reason Friday’s conference was so depressing was of course the Government’s recent decision to review FiT payments and fast track ‘large-systems’ (seemingly a 51kW installation is viewed as large to the coalition government).

Whilst 6 months ago, the industry was full of high hopes, with a generous tariff system in place, the industry is now in a very different position with the plug being pulled on virtually everything bar residential installations.  Some are dealing with this by suing the Government (I don’t fancy their chances), whilst others are trying to find their way around the new rules likely to be imposed.

Profile photo of Ash Sharma, senior research director for photovolatics at IMS Research. Courtesy: IMS ResearchPV markets have a habit of continuing to live and even grow, despite major set-backs like this and I don’t expect the UK’s market to be any different. And although the Government seems set on restricting PV deployment to just residential systems this won’t stop developers coming into the market to capitalise on the fairly generous returns. Rather than building a single 5MW plant (which would be financially impossible under the new proposed FiTs), they’re instead building 5MW plants by distributing them across thousands of social housing roof-tops. A simple way to get around the Government’s desire to prevent single developers from eating up to much of the FiT budget.

The most worrying thing I saw from the conference was the simple acceptance that the UK’s market was almost dead and buried come August 1st and all we would see would be a handful of residential systems being added. As I pointed out in my panel discussion, the real key to the UK’s market is developing real distributed PV generation at the point of consumption – the biggest of which is industry and businesses. I just hope the new FiT doesn’t ignore this completely.