Skip to Navigation

Set targets and reform tax to boost the rooftop markets

February 01 2021:

Jonathan Bates, Photon Energy.

The rooftop solar market in the UK has shown itself to be remarkably resilient, despite the three national Covid-19 lockdowns so far. Although the number of solar installations registered by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) dropped in line with other economic activity, the industry seems have recovered better than could be expected.

The latest MCS data shows that the number of domestic rooftop solar systems installed in November 2020 was the highest all year. This is encouraging, especially as 2020 was the first full calendar year after the end of the Feed-in-Tariff, the government scheme which provided a financial incentive to early adopters of rooftop solar power. It shows that consumers are recognising the merits of solar even without specific support.

As well as the domestic market, the commercial and industrial rooftop market also appear to be powering ahead. Anecdotal evidence suggests that levels of interest and enquiries have not fallen off due to the pandemic even though actual levels of installation may have slowed, with clients waiting to assess the full impacts of the pandemic before making a final decision to proceed. With payback periods of between five and six years, and rates of return of more than 20% achievable for larger rooftop systems, the sector is poised to expand rapidly over the coming year.

Whatever the full impacts of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, those of us who work in the industry know that solar power is clean, cheap, and very easy to install. When coupled with energy efficiency measures, there is no better way to reduce electricity bills than installing a rooftop solar system for industry, businesses, and homeowners alike. The contributions to emission reductions will also be significant.

The challenge is to ensure that there is a full recovery from COVID-19 throughout this year, and beyond. Solar can and should play a major role in helping the UK achieve its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and members of Solar Energy UK’s PV Rooftop working group will coordinate their efforts to help that happen.

It it vital that businesses have a stable environment to make decisions, and we must work together to ensure the government develops a clear, long-term plan for solar energy. This is important, because solar can deliver skilled, high-tech jobs to support the government’s intended Green Industrial Revolution.

The much-anticipated Energy White Paper published at the end of last year made plain the government’s intention to support offshore wind, and new – and as-yet unproven – technologies, such as hydrogen.

But even now, the government is strangely quiet on solar, given the fact that solar is a mature technology that is quick and easy to deploy, and can provide the power for other technology options already being rolled out, such as electric vehicles and the electrification of heat. If the UK does develop a hydrogen sector, solar can also provide the clean electricity needed to ensure its potential is reached.

The government ought to set a specific target for the deployment of solar, as it has done with wind, and address the multiple inconsistencies in how solar and energy storage technologies are taxed to boost uptake in the rooftop markets.

There are already a million solar homes in the UK and the residential segment can continue to make a major contribution to any target: Solar Energy UK research shows that installing solar coupled with battery storage and intellgent energy controls on one in every five dwellings would deliver huge benefits for both homeowners and the electricity grid alike, helping to provide stability across the system.

Combine this with the significant potential for the commercial rooftop market to take off over the next few years, and we will be well on our way to the 40GW target set by the association. All in good time.