County backs solar power

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Lancashire customers are helping renewable energy companies to prosper, according to one of the UK’s largest solar power installers.

Graham Wall is CEO of Solar-King UK, a company he grew in Lancashire from scratch with the help of customers from Chorley, Lancaster, Preston, and other localities.

Last year the company installed just over 500 PV systems across Lancashire.

Mr Wall said in terms of both the number of installations and general curiosity, Lancashire was in the UK’s top five regions.

He said: “Solar-King’s typical customer is the homeowner who understands the value of smart energy use.

“We started this business over five years ago. We have the people of Lancashire to thank for thinking ahead of the curve. The feed-in tariff gives an index-linked return for 20 years, so it’s easy to see the benefit.”

“Alternative energy is acceptable now,” agrees Alex Vasili who runs the solar panel comparison website The Eco Experts.

Last year The Eco Experts, who have just been nominated for Best Eco Blog in the PrimeLocation Blog Awards, handled 13,817 customer enquiries, around a third of all such calls made in the UK.

“There’s still prejudice against solar but most people can see it’s a sensible investment. There’s no need to sell solar, you just have to give the facts and let people make up their mind” says Alex.

As with all the renewables, solar polarises opinion. The solar bubble in 2011-12 was caused when the government slashed the feed-in tariff rates twice in rapid succession, very publicly, which created lasting distrust.

Consumers seemed to lose their appetite, and sales of solar PV were vastly reduced overnight. As Wall testifies: “2011 saw the level of interest soar overnight. A lot of interest was then retracted and shelved when the FiT was cut, causing a huge slump in the number of installations taking place.

Even though the price of solar has come down significantly since then, some still think the subsidies are unfair and only available to the affluent, and there are those who still have no faith in the technology.

Nevertheless, solar is becoming mainstream. Over a quarter of a million (256,197) PV systems were installed in the UK in 2012 and 2013 (including the two intensely busy buying periods when the feed-in tariff was dropped), and the majority were domestic systems under 4KW.

“In the third quarter of 2012, people really started showing an interest again: the shock of the drop in returns had worn off and the cost of PV dropped considerably across the industry. Since then we’ve seen a healthy increase in interest and adoption of solar across the whole of Lancashire,” says Wall.

“After changes to the feed-in tariff dissuaded people from investing in solar panels, solar PV is enjoying steady success once again in places like Chorley, Lancaster and Preston.”

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