FITs for Purpose

Back in July of this year when we had summer holidays and sunshine on our minds, the Government brought solar to the forefront of our minds with a consultation to propose the closure of the Feed-In Tarif from March 2019.

Although a few of us in the industry had expected it due to a document produced by the Treasury in 2017, seeing it in the black and white of a Government consultation made it more pressing, urgent and now a reality. Feed-In Tariffs have been a success with over 800,000 installations and have driven consumers towards solar by helping them earn money for the excess electricity they send back to the grid (known as the export tariff). The Government plans to take this away which effectively means that solar panel owners will be sending back excess electricity to their suppliers for free.

We thought of 2 groups who would be affected by this closure:

  1. Consumers looking to get solar – There is a risk that without the Feed-In Tariff installers wouldn’t have to be a member of consumer code of practice and have oversight from the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). Both of which exist to reduce consumer detriment and raise industry standards. Would this open the market up to rogue traders who would need to be regulated?
  2. Installers – Without the various subsidies and payments available for consumers, would solar be attractive to consumers? What would happen to all the skills and knowledge built up over the years?

What did Installers think?

As we already understood the risks to consumers, we wanted to know what the issues would be for installers, so we invited installers nationwide to participate in a survey and provide their opinions. We had 88 responses to the survey, which highlighted some shocking statistics:

  1. 56% of respondents believe there will be a 75% or more decrease in sales
  2. 74% of respondents believe there will be a 50% or more decrease in sales
  3. 68% of respondents anticipate 50% or more job losses
  4. 70% of respondents believe 50% or more firms will go out of business
  5. 54% of respondents anticipate 75% or more decrease in consumers buying Solar PV
  6. 82% of respondents anticipate 50% or more decrease in consumers buying Solar PV
  7. 54% of respondents believe 75% or more firms will stop doing Solar

Sometimes opinions can say much more than statistics and here is a selection of what our members thought the effects would be when FITs finishes in March 2019:

“It will reduce business.”

“Devastating loss to an already damaged industry. The FITs are huge incentives to help people choose a sustainable energy source to help us cut carbon emissions.”

“Quality installers will leave the industry and will bring cowboys into the industry, through lack of regulation requirements as MCS will be defunct, putting homes at risk through poor installations and the use of unregulated equipment.”

“Further reduction in domestic retro-fit installations, and without any support the public will not understand 15-20-year payback periods unless they never plan to move home. Most installers will lose the additional business and lose well-qualified staff due to job losses.”

HIES takes action

We responded to the consultation requesting that FITs should remain, for the export tariff at least. This keeps the consumer protected through consumer codes and MCS, but we wanted to do more.

We secured a meeting with Alan Whitehead MP and introduced him to the scheme and the benefits we offer. Alan later questioned BEIS Minister Claire Perry MP in November and stated, “I cannot think of a better way to discourage people who might be thinking of investing in solar than telling them that they will be expected to give away to the national grid half the electricity they generate from their investment”. It was at that same session that Claire said, “I do completely agree that solar power should not be provided to the grid for free”. So there is perhaps some hope for consumers.

We joined forces with the Solar Trade Association and took part in the Fair4Solar campaign at an event in October. We were able to directly engage with MPs such as Caroline Lucas MP and Clive Lewis MP and tell them a bit more about how the market could be open to rogue traders.

The future

As the consultation response is yet to be published it remains to be seen what will happen, but HIES will always want as many consumers as possible to have access to renewable energy which will be installed by competent, reliable and professional tradespeople.

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy for HIES says:

“We need as many consumers as possible taking advantage of solar in order to reduce carbon emissions. We know that Government is heading towards a subsidy future so at least we look to see that new consumers are rewarded fairly and that the market is kept free from rogue traders.”