Solar Panels for the Commercial Market

Across the globe, commercial enterprises are trying to reduce their carbon footprint in the shadow of spiralling energy costs and increased scrutiny on their carbon accounting. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the world of commercial solar panels. The technology provides businesses the opportunity to lower their carbon footprints and provide an obvious and long term boost to the solar panel production and installation industry.

But it hasn’t come without some resistance.

While George Osborne earlier this year threatened to get rid of all “this green crap”, David Cameron has recently received an open letter signed by many in the solar panel industry, including Good Energy and Ecotricity. The letter urges Cameron to get behind the solar industry and help it reach the stage where it can exist without subsidies and fully compete with the fossil fuels market.

Friends of the Earth and two solar power companies went to court this month following the government cut in subsidies, winning a ruling that the change had damaged the industry and put thousands of jobs at risk. While the government said they would appeal, companies are breathing a short sigh of relief.

According to Solarlec spokesman Nick Keighley on the BBC: “The feed-in tariff is now stable and the costs of solar panels are slowly reducing, representing increasingly better value for consumers and a very cost-effective way of generating green energy.”

Despite the attempt to reduce subsidies, solar farms are on the increase as the industry starts to become a viable commercial market that can compete on its own two feet. Wales already has 21 sites covering around 190 acres while there are a further 24 that already have planning permission.

And it’s not just solar energy suppliers that are working hard to develop and promote their green credentials with solar PV. Businesses too are getting incentives to put panels on their commercial premises. For a while now, domestic homes have been receiving offers by companies to get their panels installed free – the installing company then reaps the rewards offered by the feed-in tariff. This is now being offered to commercial premises with many now able to afford to go green.

While experts say that 20 million homes will have solar panels by the year 2020, commercial premises may well be more of a slow burner as many businesses start to come out of the slump caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

For many commercial enterprises it’s also a question of the return on investment – when it takes up to 7 or 8 years to break even on the initial outlay, many may be reluctant to spend that money on a property they might not remain in. A lot also depends on the level of energy consumption and whether solar panels can provide all the energy needs from lighting, through to heating and those who operate 24hrs a day.

There are many who believe that the solar PV revolution is now moving too fast to be stopped, despite a drain on subsidies. This year, with some of the best sunshine in recent times, the Guardian reported that both Germany and the UK had broken records for generating solar electricity.

There’s no doubt that the large amount of commercial and industrial property available in the UK represents an opportunity to increase output with solar PV and to many in the industry it’s a no-brainer. The change in FIT for businesses may just be the stimulus that the commercial market needs.

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