‘We hope the amount of installed PV power will be 1 GW a year until 2015’
Solarplaza talks to John Milston of Sunconnex, about the UK solar PV market, the position of Sunconnex in the UK PV market and his expectations regarding the future of the UK solar industry.
1. Can you briefly introduce your personal background, your company and main activities/specialties? Can you elaborate on a ‘flagship project’?
My personal background includes the roll out of steel mounting systems engineered for large scale solar parks in Europe on behalf of a British steel manufacture. The link of the product to solar parks led me along the path to work for Sunconnex who are a well established European PV distributor who were looking for someone to join them to officially start their UK business in line with the introduction of the feed-in-tariff (FIT). Sunconnex have been operating as a PV distributor across Europe since 1989 and have recently incorporated a project development division who are involved as a developer in far reaching locations such as the Philippine and Canada.
2. What is your current position in the UK PV market? And what do you want to achieve in the coming two years?
Now that Sunconnex are operational with a sales team and have a growing customer base we intend to come to forefront of the industry where our pioneering roots and years of experience will benefit companies that we form partnerships with. Our intention is to replicate here in the UK the model that has worked for Sunconnex and its customers in other key European PV markets such as Italy and Belgium.
3. What are your expectations for the UK PV market in 2012-2015 (in MW new installed PV Power)?
We are expecting the UK PV market to be at least 500MW in the next few years. We hope it will be more like 1 GW a year until 2015 but we are keeping modest expectations so that we do not get caught out in a down turn. As a distributor you have to prepare for market changes both positive and negative.
4. What are according to you the major threats to or thresholds for further growth of the UK PV market? And what are the biggest opportunities of the near future?
Threats to growth in the market will be the pressure from the energy companies against the continued uptake of Solar PV as they will see a loss of revenues as a result of people being more self reliant on their energy sources. I also fear that the government will continue to confuse the wider population by giving a mixed message and acting heavy handedly with reductions to the FIT. Another major threat is if the government accept the possibility of not reaching our 2020 EU obligations. Once this key driver disappears the government will have less of a reason to support the industry. The biggest opportunities will be around metering, either smart or net like they now have in Holland. Once people can properly manage their levels of consumption in line with what they can generate they will be delighted by the returns they will make and more importantly the money they will save on household or commercial fuel bills. Net metering in its simplest form is when you can claim back from the utility companies the equivalent cost of energy that you generated in the day time and did not use. In Holland where the sun also rarely shines this has led to a situation of grid parity which is where we need to get to if we want the PV market to boom in a sustainable way.
5. Given Sunconnex’ experience in different markets, can you suggest any best practice that could be applicable for the UK market on the short term?
Regarding best practice I would suggest that installers keep well informed of the expectation from their local DNO’s. In the early days of being in PV or if you face a more complicated installation try to team up with an experienced distributor such as Sunconnex who can talk you through the possible pitfalls and potential areas of risk. If SAP stipulated returns geared to the particular project are not reached by the PV system in reality you have misled to your customer. These kind of situations give the industry a bad name and we need to minimize these type of situations wherever possible.
6. Suppose you were in the year 2015. Looking back, what, in your opinion, will have been the surprises in the UK PV business during the coming years - something that we did not foresee?
That’s a hard question, unfortunately you should never be surprised by the PV market. It’s young and dynamic as I used to be! I would hope to look back and be surprised by the market’s resilience and defiance along what was initially a rocky road. I would also hope to be surprised by the fact that the market found some stability and continued to grow at a sustainable yet encouraging rate.