There is certainly a lot of uncertainty felt not just by the solar industry in the UK but a lack of confidence amongst the renewable industry as a whole. In times of uncertainty it is usually investment that suffers which can greatly affect future development and therefore potential growth.
The last year has certainly been turbulent as far as the embryonic UK solar industry has been concerned. In fact it has been a victim of its own success, after a slow start the feed-in tariff scheme gained rapid popularity and far exceeded the governments predicted take up of solar pv amongst consumers. The recent government decision to put on the brakes by reducing the amount received through the FIT scheme was controversial. It was a decision however that A Shade Greener fully supported in order to clean up the industry and stop solar turning into a cash cow.
The original drive of the FIT scheme was to encourage grass roots take up of solar, without these subsidies would not have even been considered by consumers. The early high levels of tariff payment for consumers generating their own clean energy were designed to encourage pioneers to take up solar and kick start the solar industry.
As investment in solar grew, costs gradually fell the tariff rates would also fall keeping inline with typical solar installation costs. However costs fell much faster than initially thought and the take up of FIT’s soon became unsustainable. In order for the scheme to continue the rates had to be cut, the dilemma was however that cutting too fast and too deep would kill off this potential growth industry in the UK.
One side effect of the recent feed-in tariff reviews and announcements has however caused a solar rush by consumers in order to install their systems before the rate cut deadline. Until November 2011 the number of recorded installations was growing steadily. The start of December saw an exponential growth in weekly installations until it reached a peak of 30,000 weekly installations.
Since then the number of installs has fallen dramatically to less than it was at the beginning of the year. At the time of writing the latest figures from DECC are not available so it is not possible as yet to see how much confidence has returned.
The provision of free solar through private companies such as A Shade Greener has played a part in promoting the take up of solar in the UK. Even with the government subsidies solar is still a long term investment for which many people are unable or are unwilling to make that financial investment. Under the government scheme consumers are paid back over a 25 year period rather than providing an upfront subsidy. The provision of free solar has enabled home owners without the funds or not wanting to make such a long term investment in later life to benefit from what equates to smaller energy bills.
One thing we can conclude from the last couple of years is the willingness of consumers to take up what was once an unknown technology in terms of home power generation. The fact that so many have invested in solar and committed to it long term means that the public are open to new options as long as they can see a clear benefit. Without this clear benefit the status quo would no doubt remain.