Clouds forming over the UK solar industry

Is the UK falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to investment in solar technology? Eric Hawkins, founder of Thermaltricity International believes that opportunities have been missed.

According to Brighton Energy Coop (BEC) the UK has suffered a ‘dramatic collapse’ in clean energy investment. In 2017 investment dropped 56%, now seen as the lowest since 2008. Wind energy peaked in 2016, then collapsed by more than 60% in 2017, with solar suffering a similar fall (but does not mention solar thermal), which the then DECC wanted to eliminate out of the RHI scheme. The RHI is on track to install barely 20% of the 513,000 new heating systems expected to be delivered by the scheme.

BEC believes the government is the main source of barriers to clean energy with the removal of the ROC, stripping renewables of their eligibility under venture capital trusts, the enterprise investment scheme, the removal of the climate change levy exemption, with the ending of the FiT for PV in 2019.

The USA is introducing a NEW LAW that will limit any energy efficiency that allows any customer to opt out of paying for Utility efficiency programmes. This law could see the collapse of the solar PV industry. China is also pulling back its support of solar PV farms across China, which could be the final nail in the coffin of debt ridden PV manufactures. In Spain, anybody installing PV will be taxed per kW installed.

What is the destination for micro domestic renewables in the UK?

My own view of the state of micro renewables (Solar PV and thermal) market is that for PV, the initial FiT payment was too high to start with and should have remained a Domestic Sale, and not expanding into covering thousands of acres of land for the benefit of land owners and hedge funds.

Solar Thermal was shot in the back, by the introduction of the FiT, leaving both solar thermal and heat pumps with zero incentive until two years later.

From my own perspective, since pioneering solar central heating/hot water systems from 1991 to 2009, the elimination of solar thermal to be used in space heating support, along with a gas boiler or a heat pump connected to a thermal store, is why this country is back to 2006, when we had zero support.

What needs to now happen, is for enough of the MCS trained solar thermal installers along with heating engineers and competent plumbers, who are not sold on gas as the future of this country to form a new group, to perhaps re build a solar thermal industry that requires no government incentive?

It was in 2013, I registered a new company in Hong Kong, so any future solar thermal uptake was away from the UK. In 2014 I gave away my commercial flat pack tank thermal store designs to a heat pump importer/distributor in South Africa. Today, his business has completed over 500 installations, heated by heat pumps with increased sales from 15 million rand to 35 million to June this year.

It was at the same time, after securing some American and Chinese investment, I began to develop a low cost self assembly PV + Thermal (PVT) solar panel through a JV with a Chinese investor recommended to me. My first PVT installation (pictured above) was completed in Australia early this year, proving beyond any doubt that PVT hybrid systems is the future for both these solar technologies.

As with solar thermal for space heating support through the RHI, Solar PVT was a technology nobody understood, yet one UK registered company investing in PVT development received £356,000 from DECC and a €1 million from the EU.

To all those self builders, there is now a proven hybrid PVT-HP working system on the roof of a hotel in a ski area of Switzerland, where the by product of warm water from cooling 30 270W PV panels is used by a ground source heat pump to deliver hot water, heating and cooling.

With a higher water temperature from the PVT panels, compared to the heat in the ground, the CoP increases, which reduce the electricity running cost of the heat pump, resulting in a zero energy cost for hot water and heating.

I am now seeking a UK partner to demonstrate how my Thermaltricity PVT-HP can benefit both self builders and the wider commercial business sector from Aquaponics, to food/drink processors to the hospitality industry.

For further details, please visit:


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