When Ed Davey said last year that he believed the future of solar was in the rooftops of businesses and homes rather than on open land and large farms, he may have set in motion a renewables revolution that could be difficult to halt.
Companies like Lightsource Renewable Energy, who have put aside nearly £125 million for rooftop installations, have quickly realised that the ground market is becoming increasingly more difficult to operate in. Their move to commercial rooftop could be the norm rather than the exception if industry speculation is anything to go by.
A 10 MW solar farm installation in Wales that was originally denied planning approval has recently won on appeal to go ahead with the Welsh government. The application was initially refused on the basis of the visual impact the solar panels would have on the local area. Such reversals are, however, few and far between and getting that initial planning permission has proved difficult for a number of proposed sites.
Commercial solar has been slow to take off in the UK compared to our European counterparts. By the middle of last year, around 500,000 domestic homes had had solar panels fitted while only 400 commercial premises considered it prudent to take up the investment and cost cutting benefits of having their own rooftop array.
Why Commercial Solar?
There are two main reasons why the development of commercial solar in the UK is going to be important for the renewables agenda in the next few years:
- There is a large amount of commercial roof space out there, from office buildings and factories to supermarkets and warehouses that could provide a significant part of our electricity needs.
- Companies can save, and often make, a good deal of money by having their rooftops solarised. And with excellent returns on investment the rooftop revolution can provide an important source of income for a wide range of businesses.
According to the Guardian, the fact that we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in solar is worrying: “The total amount of solar PV installed in the UK now exceeds 4.6GW. In comparison, the total in Germany – world leaders in solar as well as football – exceeds 30GW.”
The government are planning to use the tried and trusted method of Feed in Tariffs to encourage more commercial involvement in solar panels though there is some suggestion that this needs to be higher if it is going to cause a rush to install the technology. Most companies that have already taken the plunge and put solar on their roofs have found little to complain about with reduced electricity bills and the prospect of more money once the initial investment has been paid off.
Solar Century have been at the forefront of installing commercial solar panels for a while now. Their project for London’s Blackfriars Bridge has seen them working with Network Rail to put 4,400 solar panels on the roof that can generate 935,000 kWh a year making it the largest solar powered bridge in the world (at the time of writing).
Five Star Fish
Seafood company Five Star Fish have got together with Norse Energy to install solar panels on the roof of their factory in Grimsby. The 250 kWp array produces enough power to keep over 50 homes going for an entire year and the company benefits from free electricity whilst Norse Energy benefits from selling the excess back to the National Grid with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
According to Ellis Ward of the Five Star Fish Company: “We have a strong commitment to sustainability and innovation. We’re delighted to agree this project which will help Five Star Fish meet site financial and environmental targets.”
Water company United Utilities is the one of the latest companies to get the solar bug, installing panels across four roofs at its Fleetwood Water Works. With a 1.32 MW capacity the arrays can produce over a million kWh each year, enough to provide power to thousands of properties. The cost of the four installations came in at around £1.5 million and there are plans to give other United Utilities plants a similar makeover.
The CIS building in Manchester is one of the city’s most well-known landmarks but not many people realise that its blue windows are making the most of the sun’s power. Three of the four sides of the building use a total of 7,244 solar panels to generate electricity with the installation privately funded to the tune of £4 million.
The Future of Rooftop Solar in the UK
The number of rooftop solar panels in the commercial sector may well rise considerably in the next year or two as businesses realise the benefits of going green in their electricity production. We might still lag behind the rest of Europe at the moment but all the indications suggest that this is set to change. With new incentives and greater returns on investment commercial solar could take the UK by storm in 2015.
You can find out more about commercial solar panels and their return on investment on our main website.