The government started a frantic photovoltaic race when it announced it would give landlords six weeks to install panels before slashing the feed-in tariff so hard many schemes are no longer viable.
Across England, Wales and Scotland providers are speeding to install panels on roofs ahead of the 12 December deadline. Social landlords have a particularly pressing reason to put their feet on the accelerator – social PV schemes, which are classed as ‘aggregated’ installations, are the hardest hit by the FIT reduction which will fall from 43.3 per kilowatt hour generated to just 16.8p/kWh.
Inside Housing’s Green Light campaign is calling for social landlords to be placed on an equal standing with other landlords and homeowners to protect vulnerable tenants from fuel poverty. But it now transpires there may be other long-term costs if the government proceeds to cut the FIT so far and fast across all sectors.
This is based on the experience of professionals who have already seen something of a solar-rush over the past year – UK solar capacity grew six-fold to 220 mega watts from April 2010 to August 2011, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, with 95 per cent going on residential roofs. The pace of change has led to concern from some that corners are being cut.
Chris Davis, business development director of microgeneration supplier Dimplex Renewables, says some installers are cramming panels on roofs. A poorly installed PV panel might be more vulnerable to damage, he suggests – for example if the panel isn’t anchored properly. Some panels have been left hanging over the edges of roofs, he adds, making them potentially lethal in high winds.
Mr Davis says he is not aware of any panels flying off buildings – yet. But he adds: ‘It’s going to happen. You’re certainly seeing a lot of poor quality installation going on. The Wild West is rapidly making its way into the solar PV sector.’
In a letter to climate change minister Greg Barker, Matthew Rhodes, managing director of low carbon engineering company Encraft, warns that ‘shameless cowboys have come back into the market offering “sign up to beat the 12 December deadline” offers… they cannot deliver’. He adds that the announcement has only benefited ‘fly-by-night profiteers’.
If workmanship is deteriorating in the dash to install photovoltaic panels what does this mean for social housing providers? Will the road ahead be full of high repairs and maintenance costs as a result of moving too fast? And are other green technologies such as heat pumps subject to similar pressures? Is it going to be a bumpy ride?
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