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2011 - Year of the Solar Panel?

How has Solar been in 2011? Itís impossible to ignore how 2011 has been a very busy year for the solar industry, with panels now visible all over the place, from schools and churches, to households and garden sheds.

At the start of the year, the FIT had been running for about 9 months, with the industry having led to some very large solar installations across the UK. Plug Into the Sun carried out then the largest installation in the country. OFGEM figures show that more than 10,000 solar panels were installed in the UK, generating 26MW of solar power.


As solar became more popular, the importance of MCS accreditation also increased, with a massive rise in would-be installers taking on this qualification so that the solar panels they install are eligible for the FIT. Renewable technology became adopted in broader markets, for example, Sharp and Comtek invested in Wales, leading to 125 jobs, with 81% growth in the small scale wind turbine market, with the UK the second largest country in the world for this type of small scale generation.

There was scandal in the industry in Spring, with the revelation that many councils were insisting upon planning permission for solar panels, despite government legislation getting rid of this requirement. However, there was also a review of FITs. This was due to speculation that the largest installations were taking up all of the money available to cover both large and small scale generation with PV panels. This divided the industry Ė some thought it was better for the long run, making solar more sustainable, whereas others hated the fact that it cut incentives for the very largest projects of all, which ultimately generate renewable electricity at the lowest cost per unit, saying instead that this is therefore more sustainable as a solution to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Over the summer, the Green Deal was first mentioned by the government, with many installers getting very excited at to what implications this could have for solar power Ė would it cover solar panel installation? The details are still not finalised, but weíll see. The summer also saw Ploughcroft, a solar company, getting a successful entry on Dragonsí Den, winning support from Deborah Meaden. Indeed, Chris Hopkins, their MD, reported in the two weeks after going on air, they received over 1,000 enquiries, aiming for a £10m turnover in the next two years to try to become the UKís largest installer.

The Renewable Heat Premium Payment was also launched towards the end of the summer. However, this did have the problem that it just wasnít popular Ė it offered households up to £450 to install solar panels, but we havenít seen to this leading to a significant rise in demand, probably given the costs of thermal solar panels of between £3,000 and £5,000 to supply and install. The ongoing issue is that whilst they can offer good returns, the installation process is much more complicated than photovoltaic panels, and they are often not economically worthwhile if the house has a combi boiler because an additional storage tank is then needed.

However, as our timeline in the previous blog article shows, the FIT looks like itís going to be decreased very dramatically. Stay tuned for updates. Will 2011 be the year that saw both the rise and the fall of the solar panel?