‘The Future is Bright’ – top tips when considering solar power for your business

The United Kingdom’s commercial solar power sector is an incredible economic success story, with 2021 seeing record growth. This growth has an important role to play in the UK’s goal of achieving a net zero economy by 2050; 40 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity needs to be installed by 2030 to help make this goal a reality. Of this, around 7GW of generation capacity is needed from commercial-scale sources, nearly double the capacity of the planned nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. The speed of this deployment has accelerated massively in the last year – in quarter 1 of 2021, just over 30 megawatts (MW) of commercial solar was deployed, a fairly typical quarterly level for the last few years. In contrast, quarter 4 of 2021 saw more than twice this amount deployed, with 80MW added.

This surge in the popularity of commercial solar installations has come about due to four key reasons:

  1. Affordability – solar panel costs have fallen by as much as 60% since 2010, and the payback time on a commercial project can be less than five years. Given a minimum installation lifetime of 30 years, this means that a modern system will effectively generate free electricity for 25 years or more.
  2. Reliability – solar generates energy all year round, and as there is excellent historical data on light levels across the UK, it is possible to generate extremely accurate forecasts of annual power generation. This forecasting in turn allows businesses to reduce their exposure to volatile electricity prices.
  3. Ease and speed of deployment – commercial rooftop solar projects can be delivered in less than 12 months from conception to completion, making them a quick way for businesses to reduce their carbon emissions and energy bills.
  4. Proven environmental benefits – solar power is zero-carbon at the point of use, allowing businesses to directly reduce their carbon emissions, improve the sustainability of their operations and help address climate change.

Businesses of all types require energy in order to power their day-to-day operations; these four factors present a compelling case for senior leaders to examine how solar power can help meet their business needs.

How Does It Work?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight directly into electricity. By connecting directly to a building’s electrical system, energy produced using solar PV can be used to meet a business’s power demands, including lighting, IT equipment and other appliances. Any surplus energy generated by the system can exported to the National Grid, for which the business will receive payment. Alternatively, the system can be installed with an energy storage component, such as a battery, allowing excess power to be stored and used later, for example to support night-time operations when the solar PV is not able to generate power.

A large scale commercial solar PV installation by Caplor Energy

The main elements in a typical commercial solar system are as follows:

Panels

these convert sunlight into electricity, and can be mounted on flat roofs, sloping roofs or on the ground for businesses with adjacent land. Rooftop installations can be accomplished using a simple ballast to hold the panels in place, using a dedicated mounting rack or by integrating the panels as part of the roof itself, replacing tiles or other roof panelling.

Inverter

converts the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity used by buildings and appliances. The inverter can be installed at a convenient location on site.

Meter

measures electricity generation, on-site consumption and how much energy is being exported to the grid. Meters typically come with monitoring software or applications that allow businesses to measure system performance and identify any issues that may arise in the system.

Energy storage

comprises batteries designed to store any excess electricity generated using a solar PV system, allowing it to be used later. Smaller batteries can be installed at convenient locations on-site, while larger batteries may require external space, depending on the specific needs of the business and its system. 

As with any mechanical and electricity installation, a solar system should be regularly inspected and maintained by qualified professionals. However, a properly installed and maintained system should remain operational for at least 30 years.

Key Investment Considerations

While the benefits of a solar installation are plain to see for any business, there are some key considerations for senior leaders eager to progress with such a project.

Why are you doing it?

Buyers should be clear on the primary motivation for the installation. Solar energy systems can be optimised to deliver different business benefits: the biggest environmental impact, the absolute best unit price for electricity and the highest absolute financial return possible will likely all require differences in their design and installation, and any business seeking to commission a system should have clarity on what they would like it to achieve.

Where will it go?

Business leaders should consider the space available for their installation and be mindful of any possible impact that giving this space over for solar may have on future capital works.

When do you need the power?

Does the system need to include energy storage, such as a battery? This will allow zero-carbon electricity to be used to power night-time operations and offer increased protection from electricity pricing volatility but may necessitate a larger solar panel array to maximise on-site generation and will come with a higher initial project outlay.

How is your business likely to change in the future?

How well does your business understand its likely future energy needs? A qualified solar system designer will be able to accurately match the quantity of electricity needed by a business to a solar system by using historic electricity consumption data. However, if the business has plans to grow, this growth will likely come with an additional energy requirement not reflected by historic consumption data. Additionally, wider government strategy to address climate change is seeing an increased emphasis on the electrification of heating and transport – for example, using electrically-powered heat pumps for heating and hot water, and replacing fleet with electric cars and vans which require charging. These changes would result in a big increase in on-site electricity demand, meaning that business leaders need to decide whether they would like to forward-plan this extra capacity into their installation.

How to Get Started

Solar PV at TG Group Builders Merchants

The first step for any business seeking to undertake a commercial scale solar project is to contact a Solar Energy UK-registered installer, such as Caplor Energy, with an idea of what you’d like your project to achieve. The installer will work with you to understand your objectives, property assets and current and future energy usage levels to provide an initial determination of the feasibility of your project. Once this is done, a more detailed assessment will take place including a site survey, energy and financial modelling and any planning and grid connection permission requirements. A reputable provider will carefully mange this stage to prevent delays.

Once the system has been agreed, installation can begin, which will involve electricians and engineers working on site. This can often be carried out disruption free – power does not necessarily need to be shut off, and businesses can operate as normal. Once complete and commissioned, the system will begin producing on-site electricity for your business.

When looking to contact a commercial installer, look for membership of Solar Energy UK, the UK trade association and look for solar manufacturer approvals and certification, and MCS, the UK’s certifying body for low-carbon energy technologies and contractors.

Make sure any provider you are considering can also demonstrate a high customer satisfaction rating, and a well-established track record. Herefordshire-based Caplor Energy have a five-star Trustpilot rating and are Solar Energy UK and MCS-certified members, with leading manufacturer approvals for solar PV and battery installations. As a family business in operation since 1923, with the core values of inspirational sustainable improvement at their heart, their friendly, enthusiastic team have a proven track record of successful installations across a wide range of commercial properties, and pride themselves on their professional approach to developments large and small.

This article has been prepared using information from the Solar Energy UK Corporate Buyer’s Guide. A full copy of the guide can be accessed on their website: https://solarenergyuk.org/resource/corporate-buyers-guide/

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