Opinion

Talking point

Zenex Solar’s managing director Liz macFarlane
Zenex Solar’s managing director Liz macFarlane

Liz MacFarlane, Zenex Solar, reflects on the four key challenges the PV sector faces if the UK is to see 20GW installed by the end of the decade 

If you were at Solar Energy UK in October you would have heard Greg Barker’s speech on the government’s Roadmap to a UK PV Strategy. There is much to be pleased with and lots to look forward to.

Currently, we’ve installed 1.7GW of PV in the UK under the Feed-In Tariff; that’s almost half a million installations. The government sees four key challenges to enable the UK market to reach its potential: cost reduction, carbon-effectiveness, sustainability and scalability.

I won’t disagree. These are certainly hurdles to grid parity. However, I would also argue that they are challenges which in some respect were created by government and EU policy in the first place.

Let’s take challenge number one – cost reduction. Easy to say when Chinese module manufacturers have what is tantamount to legalised price fixing imposed on them via the minimum pricing agreement. The big Chinese producers are not struggling to sell their quota and must be heady over their increased margin but it really doesn’t help the government’s cause of driving down costs, particularly when Europe struggles for its own production capacity. Inverter and mounting kit manufacturers cannot reduce costs anymore, and I’m speaking from experience when I say distributor margins are way below what would be expected in other sectors. I think installers would say the same.

Regarding challenge number two – carbon effectiveness – I can only speak of our own crazy situation during the PV rush of 2011. With only six weeks notice of the FiT cuts, we air freighted 26 containers of panels from China to ensure our clients could meet their install demand. What a crazy situation for an industry whose very foundation is to help the UK meet carbon reduction targets.

With distribution network operator (DNO) support, clarity on pension schemes and tax liability then scalability should be possible. The UK could achieve Mr Barker’s 20GW by 2020 ambition by simply utilising 16 percent of our commercial and industrial roof space.