As an industry, we all know that over the past couple of years the UK PV sector has taken some serious knocks. Many established, successful companies in the supply chain have had to implement large cuts in their workforce due to the FiT-related drop in demand and the lower profits available from module sales after the dramatic price drops.
What may be less obvious to us island inhabitants is that mainland Europe has arguably been going through even harder times – especially in the manufacturing sector. This much was clear at this year’s EU PVSEC conference & exhibition in Paris. This annual event is recognised as probably the best scientific PV conference in the world and two years ago the number of companies exhibiting alongside the conference was around 1000. This year the 250 exhibitors had a fairly quiet time. But one thing that was interesting was that when I walked onto an exhibition stand and asked about selling products into the UK, there was usually immediate interest. The UK is nowhere near as large a market as Germany or China, but we are currently seen as one of the markets with the best potential in Europe and about sixth in the world for installations in the first half of 2013 (figures from Solarbuzz). The FiT scheme is now seen as stable and this gives us, as a market, a great advantage over countries where the support mechanisms are still uncertain.
So, what to make of this? Well, I believe this is good news for all involved in the UK supply chain because it means we can expect better products and more variety to become available – this line in thinking is borne out by the current high demand for BRE Global’s product certification services. More standardised BIPV products would be especially welcome. Of course, more products are no use without the demand but the evidence is that this is starting to pick up again. Since the return on investment is still reckoned to be about 10 percent, the final piece of the jigsaw would appear to be a question of marketing – telling potential buyers about the latest products and how PV is still an excellent investment.