According to DECC residential PV (< 4kWp) has just had its record year, with 172,318 installations in 2015 (topping the previous one in 2012 with ~160,000 installations). This was aided by the noticeable surge of installations towards the end of the year due to expected and finally confirmed Feed-in Tariff (FiT) cuts that took place at the start of this month.
While January of this year is still expected to show some of the surge from the customers that were jumping on the last train of the old FiT rate, there is a lot of uncertainty around the future of the UK market. Are subsidy cuts the beginning of the end for residential PV? Or, will innovations in technology and finance step in to continue the market development towards bright future?
Switching the focus
In the past the greatest benefit for residential PV users came from FiT payments. Consequently, maximizing the actual consumption of electricity from the PV system was left in the background. However, following the 64% FiT slash, this situation has flipped. While many in the industry view this as the end for PV in UK (at least in terms of significant annual volumes), we believe it in fact provides a great opportunity for innovations to bring more focus on maximization of electricity self-consumption and to steer the residential market in a new, more optimistic direction.
Is battery storage the answer?
Storage plus PV has been the hottest current topic often mentioned in context of residential PV. Combination with storage is the obvious choice when it comes to maximizing self-consumption from rooftop PV systems - batteries can lead to doubling of electricity self-consumption. But is this solution ready for mass deployment?
In the past, high costs of batteries have been casting a shadow over customers seriously considering PV plus storage. However this market has seen big growth over the past 2 years and with increasing demand and the number of market players across Europe, costs of residential storage solutions (especially Li-Ion battery technology) have been dropping and are predicted to continue this trend in the future. This shows a light at the end of a tunnel for the future of residential PV and while PV plus storage has not yet reached mass market appeal, it already shows a lot of potential and it is only a matter of time until it reaches the masses. We will be exploring exactly when this point will be reached in our next Energy Storage Research Service report.
Or, does thermal storage have more potential?
What could bridge the gap until battery bundles become the norm? A renewed focus on self-consumption could give an opportunity for a resurgence in electrical storage heaters and hot water tanks to step in and work as more affordable transitional technologies. Connecting PV with electrical storage heating panels and/or water storage tanks should also have considerable impact on maximizing the consumption of electricity generated from PV, by storing and using the excess electricity in the form of heat. Given the higher contribution of domestic heating to UK greenhouse gas emissions than household electricity consumption, could DECC intervene with specific legislative support to get the ‘all-electric’ future back on track?
Regardless of government support, this opens up the opportunity for conventional electrical heating technology manufacturers to broaden their market and become more flexible in the changing UK domestic heating space. There already are few manufacturers that offer direct electric heating that incorporates connectivity to a PV system and smart controls, as well as available smart energy saving devices that help in utilizing the unused electricity from PV system with connecting to hot water heaters. Their comparatively low-cost compared to battery storage will appeal from a customer perspective.
Push from innovation in financing
In addition to technological advancements, financing is another aspect where innovation can provide new opportunities for residential PV. Innovative financing like residential PV Power Purchase Agreements (a more detailed description is in our latest webinar) and community funded solar options could complement the emerging technological solutions to further steer the way of future residential PV. Industry was able to make PV-for-free work – so why not this?
As part of our research in the upcoming months the Delta-ee Microgen Insight Service will take a closer look at the future of residential PV in the UK and the solutions mentioned. Interesting insights about the installer views on future of PV are also coming soon from our 2015 Installer survey. For more details, contact [email protected].