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Domestic solar is booming – but what happened to solar arrays?

Our beloved politicians spout so much hot air they could cause global warming all by themselves, but when the Feed-In-Tariff was introduced in April 2010 it looked like government talk might actually become action, with the introduction of financial incentives to put Britain at the vanguard of renewable technologies.

Our beloved politicians spout so much hot air they could cause global warming all by themselves, but when the Feed-In-Tariff was introduced in April 2010 it looked like government talk might actually become action, with the introduction of financial incentives to put Britain at the vanguard of renewable technologies.

Inspired by the Feed-In-Tariff, enterprising businesses throughout the UK (and more than a few overseas ) made plans to install solar PV panels on rooftops, fill farmers’ fields with vast solar arrays, sell megawatts of electricity to the national grid, then sit back and listen to the unending kerching-kerching of government payments coming their way. The sun was rising on a Great British Solar Age!

Budding solar farmers, however, have witnessed a false dawn. Although the sun is indeed shining on some solar enterprises, others have been pushed into the shade.  The tariff for installations greater than 50kw was reduced on August 1st this year by more than 70%. Suddenly only installations of 50kw or less are commercially attractive and almost all of those grand plans for ‘solar farms’ have been abandoned.

Demand will gradually increase for medium-scale solar installations, such as those on the rooftops of commercial and industrial premises, as building occupants take measures to cut carbon-fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions under the directive of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. But the absolute domination of the domestic market was confirmed by the publication last month of a report by Ofgem, the UK regulator of gas and electricity markets: while UK solar capacity has quickly grown from 32MW to 149MW, 93% of that power-generating machinery is sitting on residential rooftops.

In fact, since the FIT launched in April 2010, more than 70,000 domestic solar installations have been made. Fancying a piece of the action, more contenders are entering the market every month. You can almost hear the latecomers as they chase after the bandwagon, crying breathlessly: “Me too! Me too!”

But the Me Too approach isn’t enough anymore. The UK solar market is now so competitive in some regions that positioning is crucial, differentiation vital. Companies with weak marketing communications could, unlike those planners of the vast solar arrays, quickly ‘buy the farm’.


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