What next for solar companies?

Due to feed-in tariff FiT cuts, solar companies are looking for other business opportunities. Far infrared in one; Sam Abel of Herschel explains.

Recent changes in government policies on FiT have created significant implications for solar firms. As the feed-In tariff has been substantially reduced and may cease altogether, there is understandable concern that this will severely impact the number of new solar panels being installed on homes and businesses and result in a step backwards for renewable technologies and green developers. The generous FiT rate created a fantastic level of demand within the solar PV industry given the enticing payback period achievable for people looking to recoup their investment costs. 

With a reduced 2015 FiT rate, and the likelihood of further cuts in 2016, the economic case for installing solar PV will be based on reducing utility bills by consuming electricity generated within the property with little or no benefit of feeding surplus power back to the grid. Given that most households currently consume more power than they generate with solar PV, solar companies will need to encourage customers to take as many steps as they can to minimise their energy consumption and get close to only consuming as much power as the PV generates.

There is a fantastic opportunity for solar companies to reposition themselves as energy-efficiency experts, building on their renewable green credentials and developing their portfolio to offer other complementary, energy-efficient products that will help reduce the extended payback time for customers on their solar investment. Heating and lighting are the obvious target areas. 

Far infrared is the latest technology that is revolutionising the heating market. It works perfectly with electricity generated through solar to provide an energy-efficient, sustainable solution for all applications and environments. In combination with solar, Far infrared heating is 100% CO2-free providing a sustainable, low energy heating solution that can deliver energy savings of up to 60%.  Far infrared, which is radiant heating, requires one third less energy to heat areas compared to convection heating.  In addition, once heated, buildings are a store of ‘thermal mass’ which retains heat much better than air, resulting in further energy savings.

As solar battery storage capabilities develop further, the fit with infrared heating will become even more relevant as stored energy from solar power becomes accessible during non-daylight hours. Consumers will be able to use solar power as and when they need it and, in conjunction with far infrared heating, will be able to lower utility bills substantially. A typical 4kW solar PV installation when combined with battery storage could generate enough electricity per annum to meet the heating requirements of the average house in the UK using far infrared, something not possible with conventional electric heating.

The opportunity exists for solar companies to learn about new technologies that are available, that fit with and complement their existing offering, and that they can promote to their customers as an energy efficient solution offering significant benefits to consumers. There is already a number of forward-thinking solar companies that are offering infrared heating in addition to LED lights and solar battery storage; they appear to be doing very well despite the shake-up in the industry.

3 December 2015


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