FAQs for the installation and management of commercial solar projects
Q) We don’t own our building. Can we still put solar on the roof?
A) Yes. Establishing a roof-lease agreement with the landlord means you will be able to use the roof for a solar installation. The same framework can be used for other sitting arrangements (for example, if there is land adjacent to the property on which the system could be installed).
Q) What if our business grows and we need to move premises?
A) The presence of an on-site solar system should be a major draw for prospective building owners or tenants. This is because they will occupy a higher-quality asset than they otherwise would, one that will reduce their energy costs and carbon emissions compared with non-solar premises. No business can function without an energy supply, so there is guaranteed demand for the benefits of the solar system. Note that if the system has been financed through a PPA, prospective buyers or tenants may wish to take on the agreement, or be subject to a buy-out clause.
Q) Can a solar system be adapted if our energy needs change?
A) Yes. Solar systems are flexible and can often be increased in size to accommodate changes in energy needs. This might be, for example, if a company decides to electrify its fleet and has higher electricity usage as a result, or if it wishes to install an energy storage system.
Q) How quickly can a solar project be installed?
A) It can take less than 12 months from making initial inquiries with a solar installation company or project developer to having a system installed, operational, and producing carbon and cost savings. Note that one of the major variables in project development is the time required by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to consider applications to connect to the grid, as well as other planning work. DNOs will require a minimum of 45 working days to consider an application to connect a solar PV system to the grid and any connection offer may have conditions attached. In most circumstances, for systems larger than 1MW, it will be necessary to obtain planning permission. This can take up to three months.
Q) I am a landlord. Why should I install a solar project if my tenants receive the benefit?
A) In this scenario there are still major benefits to installing onsite solar. Rigorous Solar Energy UK research demonstrates that installing solar PV increases the value of a residential property. Although no comparable research currently exists for commercial property, installing solar may also increase its value, and increase the speed at which it can be let, given the advantages for tenants. Installing solar should also enable landlords to generate a return from any leasing agreement, for example for the roof space used to install a solar system.
Q) What are the biggest risks?
As with any project, solar systems are not entirely risk-free. The major risk for a solar project is not employing a high-quality installation company to carry out the work, and going for the cheapest quote available. Businesses that wish to install onsite solar power should make sure they carry out due diligence and employ a solar company with a proven track record in installations of the scale under consideration. Once operational, another key risk is failing to monitor and maintain the system correctly. Not doing so means possible faults could go undetected, therefore reducing system performance. Another possible risk is energy usage dropping below the point at which the project delivers expected returns. This means that the savings produced by a system will not be as high as intended. This is why it is important to have a clear understanding of current and projected future energy demand as part of the project appraisal process. Energy demand may reduce as other business processes are improved and become more efficient, or as less energy-intensive equipment is installed onsite. However, these factors can be taken into account in project planning, and as noted elsewhere, energy demand is in general expected to increase very rapidly in the next 10 years. This is because of the electrification of heat and transport which government policy will drive. For example, from 2030 it will not be possible to buy a new petrol or diesel car or van. This may also increase demand for electricity at business premises, because, for example, employees may wish to charge their electric vehicles at work. The failsafe in this regard is the financial return that the project will deliver purely from selling electricity to the grid. If a solar project breaks even based on exporting a hundred percent of the electricity it produces to the grid, then there is minimal financial risk.
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