Suffolk councils hope innovative group buying scheme will boost uptake of solar panels

Suffolk county councillor Richard Rout on the roof of Suffolk County Council's headquarters in Ipswi

Suffolk county councillor Richard Rout on the roof of Suffolk County Council's headquarters in Ipswich with solar panels in the background - Credit: Archant

The number of residential properties and community buildings with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has rocketed over the past decade but in recent years the rate of adoption has slowed.

According to a report published last month by SmartestEnergy, an energy company, spending on small renewable energy projects across the UK in 2017 was down 45% from the peak of £418m invested in 2014.

A key reason for this drop-off is the impending end to the government’s feed-in tariff scheme, which pays people who send their surplus renewable electricity into the National Grid.

There is also a section of the population who have considered buying solar panels but have been put off by the glut of cold-calling companies selling solar or just need a helping hand to commit.

Now councils in Suffolk are hoping to persuade consumers, who up until now have ummed and ahhed about taking the plunge, by launching an innovative new approach to increasing the uptake of solar panels.

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From today Suffolk residents will be able to register in Solar Together Suffolk, a group buying scheme backed by Suffolk County Council which is working in partnership with a host of district and borough councils as well as iChoosr, a group buying specialist.

The scheme, which is also open to schools, small businesses and community groups, works by getting people to register online to become part of the group for free and without obligation.

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Pre-vetted UK solar PV suppliers will then participate in an auction to bid for this business - the economies of scale enabling them to offer lower prices for installations. Participants will then received a personalised quote for the installation as well as e-mail and telephone support throughout the buying process.

Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, said 130,000 households will be sent details of the scheme over the coming weeks.

He said: “ Buying a solar PV system can be pretty daunting and research shows that there are a lot of people who have been considering buying solar panels for over a year but haven’t come to a final decision yet.

“There’s a great discount associated with buying the equipment through a scheme like this and people will know it is good quality because the installers are pre-vetted and buyers get clear information about the costs.

“The evidence from previous schemes is that they deliver a discount of 25 - 30% on the cost of a system - this is achieved by grouping hundreds of jobs together.”

Suffolk is launching the scheme after successful smaller test schemes in Norfolk and London, and many other larger scale schemes in the Netherlands and Belgium. iChoosr’s collective schemes have been embraced by 120 local authorities in The Netherlands and Belgium.

Over 25 schemes led to 50,000 residents installing solar PV systems - a total of 175 MW of power.

After a turbulent few years in the solar market, Suffolk County Council says the numbers are again beginning to add up for households interested in generating their own renewable energy.

Despite the reduced feed-in tariffs, rising retail electricity prices and lower prices for solar modules are making solar attractive again for the UK domestic market. The council says the current return on investment period for domestic consumers is compelling at around the 10-year mark.

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