For users of solar energy the long-term benefits of installation are evident, although developments in the near future are less clear. The reduction in development costs has already led to greater accessibility for users, but government feed-in tariffs are set to be reduced by half if installation occurs after December 2011, and this means future users will face a reduced return on what that they can feed back in the system, reducing their potential savings.
Feed-in tariffs, the amount that users can expect to earn for contributing to the national grid, are now much reduced and this is seen as less of an encouragement to benefit from a generous subsidy.
Although this is down to cost-cutting measures from the treasury, the decision has struck a chord with domestic and industrial users of solar power, particularly with reference to the controversy over the development of wind farms as alternative large-scale forms of energy generation. The fact remains that these forms of electricity generation present the most attractive long-term return on investment.
For domestic users, this means a longer payback period for their investment. It also means a disincentive to adopt solar power, and less trade for those who install the systems in the first place. In the short-term this reduction in subsidy seems to make things harder for domestic users, but how will the market evolve over the next five years?
Solar energy will bring the greatest benefit to developing countries in the equatorial regions, where sunlight may be harvested with little interruption. Compared with the complexity of setting up a new power station in a remote location, the advantages for remote communities seem obvious. Mass production has meant that setup costs for UK users will be reduced over the next five years.
Other governments have embraced ambitious goals with regard to solar technology. As manufacturing costs have fallen, so the cost of generating electricity through solar power will soon achieve parity with traditional methods. Even more attractively, big solar-cell arrays take less time to construct; a fully-functioning nuclear power station might take a decade to get up and running, whereas solar plants can be operational within a year.
Britain’s climate has always presented a challenge for effective large-scale photovoltaic generation, but increasing environmental consciousness means that more and more private homeowners are looking into the perceived benefits of the system and overcoming concerns over the affordability or appearance of the technology once it is installed. Solar experts Solar Contact can provide advice on selecting, installing and maintaining a new solar panel array.
Within 5 years the sale of solar electricity should match the rate for electricity from other sources, and although subsidies are being reduced, they will remain generous. Combined with spiralling traditional energy costs, cheaper hardware in development, and a tremendously good return on investment for both industrial and domestic users, the future seems bright.