Learning modules

Learning modules

Now that the dust has settled from the initial rush to take advantage of the Feed-in Tariff for solar PV, Richard Rushin of Trina Solar believes that there are plenty of opportunities for the pro-active installer.
After the initial boom for the solar PV industry that was caused by the introduction of the FIT scheme, the drastic cuts that followed led to difficult times for the solar industry. Consumer confidence appeared to be shaken, and installers struggled to cope with the sudden drop in demand.
However, nearly twelve months on, there are definite signs of recovery for the solar PV industry and many within the sector – such as Richard Rushin of Trina – are keen for installers to  maximise the many opportunities that still exist.
“At Trina Solar, we are optimistic about the UK solar PV market. All of our research points to the UK as becoming a top three European market within the next few years. There’s a lot of investment moving into this sector.
“The UK market is an increasingly attractive proposition because it’s maturing very quickly. The introduction of the Feed-in Tariff brought a real ‘gold rush’ feeling to residential solar PV. That’s changed now, obviously, but we believe that the remaining active installers are more specialised, more experienced and – crucially – more prepared.”
In terms of the residential solar PV market, it would appear that a lack of awareness has contributed to the drop in demand for installations. Despite the fall in rates for FITs, the total cost of a solar PV install has decreased and the performance of PV modules has improved, meaning that the return on investment (ROI) – in percentage terms – is actually very similar to when the scheme was initially launched. But this is a message that Richard believes is not getting through to the general public.
“If you stopped people in the street, I think there would be a lack of awareness that the Feed-in Tariff even still existed. So, the responsibility of those of us in this sector is to remind people that not only is there a scheme but it’s one that is still very appealing one. In terms of a return, somewhere between 8-10% is very realistic. The challenge is getting people to do the maths and see for themselves that PV is still a viable option.”
In order to maximise the potential that exists within the UK market, it is important that new companies are encouraged to move into installing solar PV. One of the advantages of coming into the sector at this stage is that it is far more stable than it was 18 months ago. The clarity that has been lacking – especially in terms of funding levels – is now in place.
Installers will also be able to assess what has gone on before and adapt their own business approach accordingly. For Richard, the big decision for an installer is not whether to enter the PV market but which area of the PV market to enter.
“There’s huge opportunities within residential – it’s just a case of unlocking the potential. The days of going out and simply taking orders are gone. What’s needed though is a more educated and sophisticated approach. Installers need to talk more about the technology and the benefits that it will give to the customers- in terms of return, performance, reliability etc. It can no longer be about simply being the cheapest.
“The decision for the installer is do they want to be known as the cheapest or do they want to be known as the best?
“For the commercial sector, there are different drivers. For some businesses it’s as much about securing electricity prices or even ‘being green’ as it is about making money from FIT. Solar PV makes sense in business terms because the majority of the electricity is being used as it’s being created. The challenge for installers is working out the best approach to secure the work.”
Another factor in the development of the solar PV industry could be the further adoption of renewable heating technologies – such as heat pumps – that rely on an electricity supply. There is an increasing drive towards combining complementary technologies in order to make homes more energy efficient – in the case of solar PV, this could be providing a percentage of the electricity required to run the heating appliance.
“Domestic properties are undoubtedly the focus when you’re considering the sheer number of potential installations. The solution in many ways is a balance of all the technologies – working together and supporting each other. That seems to be the Government’s approach and an indication of future opportunities.”
The increased experience of companies such as Trina Solar of working in the UK market is also helping to create more opportunities for installers. The solar PV sector is becoming increasingly competitive and that should benefit installers as they choose where to commit their product spend. By forming partnerships with the right manufacturers, solar PV installation businesses can develop relationships that go far beyond simply the buying and selling of modules and equipment.
“We think that the future is about bridging the gap between the manufacturer and the installer. In order to achieve that, it’s necessary to become more than a module manufacturer. The days of just producing modules and making money off the back of that are over.
“It’s now about creating innovative solutions that help installers to overcome difficulties that they come across – both in terms of installation and performance. We have the products, so the next stage is to reach out to the installer base and communicate with them on a much more direct basis. For example, the Trina Roadshow allowed installers to get hands-on with the products but also to meet our experts and ask questions.
“Installers need to consider each manufacturer carefully – the quality of the product will reflect directly on the reputation of that installation business. In terms of forming a partnership, the installer should have a variety considerations – what’s the level of support offered, does this manufacturer have a UK office etc.”
With increased talk about issues with electricity supply and the Government continuing to show support for
‘green’ initiatives, it would appear that the future for solar PV is bright. Now is an ideal time for prospective entrants – and existing businesses – to start researching how best to maximise the opportunities that are potentially available.