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UK watch: Community projects to fuel solar energy in 2015

Clean energy experts say trend is linked to market-share loss of ‘Big Six’ power companies in the United Kingdom.

Over the past four years, the UK solar industry has outpaced European rivals to become one of the world’s top ten solar markets producing enough electricity to power 1.5 million homes. In discussing the trends and future prospects for the solar industry in 2015, Mel Preedy, Caplor’s business development manager, provides an explanation.

“We saw a shift to more commercial and community solar electricity generating projects in 2014 and expect this trend to continue in 2015 on the back of Government policy, social pressure for more environmentally sensitive power generation and a desire to take some local control over energy production,” he said. “I think there’s a real appetite for local control and when you scale this across Britain you can see why renewables are disrupting the ‘Big Six’ energy firms.”

Other green energy producers agree. Ecotricity, which claims to have doubled in size in just 12 months, says dissatisfaction with the Big Six energy companies reached new heights in 2014, leading to an increase in annual complaints by over a third. This, according to Ecotricity, translated into an exodus of more than 2 million customers to smaller, clean energy suppliers.
“People have been fed up with the Big Six for a long time, that’s not new – it’s just that more people than ever are doing something about it and changing supplier,” said Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder. “Quicker switching helps, but 2014 was a year when millions of people simply said ‘enough is enough’ and looked for an alternative to the Big Six.”
Ecotricity claims to have the led the longest period of price stability in the energy industry, having frozen prices for the last two years. (Ecotricity generates 40% of the green electricity it supplies from its own fleet of wind and sun parks.) Ecotricity also says it topped the ‘2014 Which?’ energy customer satisfaction survey and received the lowest number of complaints in the energy industry last year, with only 0.86 complaints per 1000 customers.
Some of the traditional energy providers are taking issue with the claims that clean energy innovations are causing consumers to dump the more established, traditional energy providers in droves. British Gas, for instance, says it chooses to “let it customers do the talking” citing the following statistics: 95% of customers recommend British Gas based on home services reviews, while 91% recommend British Gas when it comes to new boiler installations.
Other large providers of both traditional and clean energy technologies believe it’s important to offer consumers a mix — for both the security of supply as well as for economical reasons. E.ON, for example, says it possesses one of the most diverse and well-balanced generation portfolios in the energy sector. “It is important to keep a broad energy mix,” the company stated. “This energy mix ideally consists of renewables combined with conventional energies.”  

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Green building  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling