Government and industry reveal fresh plans to help businesses embrace solar power

Jessica Shankleman
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Solarcentury unveils new approach to commercial solar installation, as government sets date for roundtable discussion to overcome barriers to deployment

The government and leading solar industry players are workign together to develop a range of new initaives designed to encourage more businesses to install solar panels on their rooftops, in line with government plans to shift the focus of the market away from solar farms towards buildings-mounted arrays.

Climate Change Minister Greg Barker last week revealed he would host a roundtable in early September with landlords, estate agents, lawyers, large retailers and solar developers, which aims to identify and overcome the barriers to the deployment of solar technolgies on commercial and industrial rooftops.

He also confirmed he will host a Ministerial roundtable with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to help find ways of overcoming some of the technical problems farmers can face when installing solar PV arrays. Meanwhile, the Department of Communities and Local Government is also preparing to consult on plans this summer to make it easier to install solar panels by allowing them to install arrays with up to 1MW in capacity on their rooftops without securing planning permission.

The measures are being introduced alongside plans to split roof and ground mounted solar schemes into separate categories under the feed-in tariff, for the purposes of measuring their deployment rate and ensuring that subsidy rates are reduced at an appropriate level. Some critics within the industry have argued that the level of support for large scale rooftop arrays is still not sufficient to drive large scale deployment of the technology. But the government has signalled that the creation of two separate feed-in tariff categories will ultimately help protect rooftop subsidies from being cut too steeply in the event that the continued success of ground mounted schemes results in further cuts to their support.

Meanwhile, Solarcentury has unveiled a new approach to commercial rooftops, dubbed PROGRESS, that promises to guide businesses through the installation process, helping them to overcome the technical challenges that prevent some firms from investing in renewables.

A number of industry players have warned that the government will fail to drive a switch to commercial rooftops unless it increases the specific subsidies for commercial rooftops alongside dealing with the technical challenges faced by developers.

But Susannah Wood, chief marketing officer for Solarcentury, said she believed technical challenges were the main barrier to wider deployment on commercial rooftops.

"This is not about the subsidies as they stand, because the return on investment for commercial rooftops is fine," she said. "It would be helpful if there was better banding for feed in tariffs, but for sure, that is not what is stopping businesses putting solar on their rooftops. They're not getting that far, they're stumbling at basic levels."

Solarcentury estimates that just 400 solar PV systems had been installed across the UK's approximately 1.8 million commercial properties by the start of this year. In contrast, more than half a million homeowners have fitted panels as people have sought to take advantage of the feed-in tariff incentives and reduced energy bills that result from solar installations.

"There are numerous organisations, blue chips through to SMEs, that could be unlocked," said Wood. "They're all interested, they've all looked at it and then they've just got stuck."

According to Solarcentury, companies often do not understand the different types of ownership models for solar rooftop schemes, such as leasing out the roof to a third party. They can also get confused about how they need to insure their rooftops when installing solar.

In a further effort to help companies overcome these barriers to deployment, Solarcentury has published a map, highlighting the solar arrays it has installed across commercial and public sector buildings in London during the last 15 years, including across Blackfriars Bridge and the London Underground Office.

"Londoners are solar savvy - thousands are already making money from their rooftop solar installations and using free, sustainable solar electricity to help meet their energy needs," said Frans van den Heuvel, chief executive at Solarcentury. "These solar owners are also helping the UK's energy independence - using solar electricity generated from the solar panels means the UK is less reliant on expensive coal and gas energy from abroad."

However, as more and more people embrace solar technology, the question is whether or not the UK's business community is prepared to join them.

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Solarcentury is a partner of the BusinessGreen Solar Hub

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