LIFE in the solar energy industry is still sunny for Sunderland’s Sun Spirit, which is planning to add another 40 staff on Wearside.
The company hopes to boost its workforce from the current 30 during 2012 as it pursues its new free solar project and launches an operation in Eastern Europe.
The industry has faced confusion in recent months due to the Government’s failed attempt to reduce the feed-in tariff for solar photovoltaics.
Back in November, it announced it was cutting the money homeowners received from solar-generated electricity from 43.3p per kWh to 21p from December 12.
Solar businesses argued this would hit the industry hard, but Sun Spirit commercial director Ric Hallikeri said the company saw an opportunity to capitalise on the rush to get panels fitted while the rate was still high.
“We realised there would be a real rush from people who hadn’t made the decision yet, but had been pushed into doing it now by the worry that their returns were going to half.
“We got a huge amount of inquiries, so we took the risk of investing every penny we had into stock. We had warehouses full of solar panels. Beforehand we were doing 15 installations a week consistently but, in the six weeks before the deadline, we were doing 15 a day, seven days a week.”
Following the December 12 deadline, Hallikeri said the industry was unsure where the rate stood. Friends of the Earth had challenged the Government’s decision as it would have gone ahead before the end of the lawful consultation period. The High Court ruled against the Government, and the Supreme Court refused it permission to appeal this week.
This meant installations completed before March 3 would still get the higher rate – a deadline which prompted another surge of inquiries from domestic and commercial clients.
Hallikeri said: “Prior to March 3, we did 26 NHS buildings, as well as projects for organisations such as Laing O’Rourke and Sunderland City Council.”
The company wants to complete 300 domestic installations a week between now and the end of June. It is also launching a project in which it will install solar on properties for free, with the client benefiting from electricity while the company takes revenues from the feed-in tariff.
Sun Spirit has also expanded into Bulgaria, opening an office in Sofia to capitalise on the favourable marketplace for solar.
“It’s a new venture for us, but the feed-in tariff there is a lot higher and there’s about 50% more sun out there”, said Hallikeri.
The introduction of schemes such as free solar installation requires the company to boost its staff in Wearside. Hallikeri said Sun Spirit has completed 700 installations nationally over the last 12 months.
“People are still interested in PV but are worried they might have missed out. However, technology prices are dropping rapidly so they can still get a good return. Customers are still looking at energy savings, and they now understand it’s not like landing a spaceship on the roof.”