SolarCity continues search for new markets as UK adventure comes to an end

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

US residential solar installer SolarCity has said global expansion remains on its agenda despite the premature demise of its exploratory foray into the UK market via subsidiary Zep Solar.

Speaking to PV Tech’s sister site Solar Power Portal in the wake of the recent decision to withdraw Zep Solar from the UK, Marco Krapels, senior vice president of strategy at SolarCity, said the company was eyeing opportunities in a number of other European markets as well as Latin America.

Last week it emerged that SolarCity had decided to shelve plans to build a presence in the UK through Zep Solar, the mounting specialist it bought two years ago.

Zep Solar entered the UK market earlier this year, establishing a base in Milton Keynes from where it hired a team of six people as it looked into launching its offering in the UK as part of a global expansion. Given its status in the US and backing from Tesla founder and renowned entrepreneur Elon Musk, SolarCity would have been a strong contender to be a dominant player in a future UK market.

But those plans have since fallen foul of UK government proposals to cut the feed-in tariff for residential and small commercial rooftop PV arrays. Of the six staff employed at the firm, it is understood four have been made redundant and two have been found positions elsewhere.

Speaking of the decision to close Zep Solar’s UK operation, Krapels, said the company had evaluated the UK and come to the conclusion that in the wake of a reduced feed-in tariff, the UK “just doesn’t economically make sense”.

“We can achieve much better IRRs for our investors in other countries where solar intuitively makes a lot of sense,” Krapels said. “In the absence of feed-in tariffs and a net metering policy, I think it’s very difficult when you have a country that doesn’t have a lot of sun hours. It’s just very hard, economically, to make it work.”

But Krapels was quick to point that the withdrawal of Zep Solar from the UK market did not spell the end of SolarCity’s overseas ambitions, which so far only encompass Mexico where the company has acquired local installer Ilioss.

“Latin America overall is an attractive market;  they have the conditions of high irradiation, structurally high and rising utility rates, increase in per-capita use of electricity – so Latin America is definitely on the radar,” he said.

“There are certainly a couple of European countries that we'll be looking at as well. Europe is somewhere in my top ten, and there are other parts of the world where even in the absence of net metering or feed-in tariff rates, you have such high irradiation rates that it economically works. I'm very pleased having scoped out the world in the last few months where we see tremendous opportunity for us to expand our core competencies – being rooftop solar – into key international markets.

“For us, what's really important to enter a market is to understand the regulatory framework that allows solar to thrive, and allows for the economics to exist where I'm able to convince my board to take a dollar out of the US and put it into another country.”

While Zep Solar has now shuttered its UK operations, Krapels lauded the work the unit had achieved in researching new installation techniques and technology on UK rooftops, which he noted were now being used in other international markets.

“The beautiful thing about the UK is that you have all these different rooftops, such as town roofs. We can do two to three homes a day now with the same crew, and we can do a large commercial building in less than two days. That's unparalleled,” he said.  

He also said the UK generally had done a “great job” in expanding solar in the past, and hinted at a possible return in the future.

“[Solar] is good for the economy, it’s created thousands of jobs and I think it’s good for energy price stability…I really do hope the UK continues to expand and create a regulatory runway where it is attractive for companies like ourselves or others to enter the UK market,” he added.

SolarCity became the second big international solar installer to back away from the UK market in the wake of proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff after SunEdison announced it was to “de-emphasise” the UK, prompting the sale and subsequent administration of its UK installer subsidiary Mark Group.

Investor confidence in the UK’s clean energy sector has taken a battering against the backdrop of numerous cuts to support frameworks since the Conservative Party’s general election victory in May. EY demoted the UK to outside the top 10 in its Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index for the first time in its history in September.

19 August 2021
The utility-scale PV market is poised for exponential growth and yet the industry still has many fundamental opportunities to improve on standards and best practice. Tracker shade loss has been one of those topics that deserve more attention, but has been typically handled by derate factors rather than trying to accurately forecast the loss over the life of the system. Join Nextracker’s subject matter experts, Aron Dobos and Neelesh Umachandran, and Rounak Kharait, director of solar energy assessments at DNV, for a webinar about why shade modeling matters and recommendations on what the solar industry should do about it.
25 August 2021
Energy Next is a new industry exhibition focusing on the latest renewable energy and energy efficiency technology, which will be held for the first time in 2021 in Sydney, Australia alongside the Clean Energy Council’s Australian Clean Energy Summit, the peak gathering of leaders driving Australia's energy transformation. Organised by the same people behind Australia’s largest clean energy event, All-Energy Australia, Energy Next will give visitors two days of access to key suppliers in the industry, free-to-attend professional development and industry workshops, and networking opportunities to better understand clean energy issues and solutions and learn about the latest developments in this transformational, dynamic sector.
25 August 2021
The Intersolar Summit Brasil Nordeste takes place in Fortaleza, Brazil. It addresses leading local and international experts on solar power and renewable energy in the region. The Summit’s mission is to provide in-depth education, enable high-quality networking opportunities, expand the use of PV technologies at regional and national level and strengthen the local PV industry. The Intersolar Summit Brasil Nordeste is organized by Intersolar South America - Latin America’s largest exhibition and conference for the solar industry: Solar Promotion International GmbH, Pforzheim, Freiburg Management and Marketing International GmbH (FMMI) and Aranda Eventos & Congressos Ltda, São Paulo as co-organizer.
25 August 2021
Join us to hear directly from the CTOs and heads-of-research from the top-20 cell/wafer producers to the PV industry today. The event will focus on predicting the key metrics underpinning the next big shift to n-type with answers to the key questions: When will the transition to n-type happen? Which companies will be first to 10 GW capacity and production? Who will be the key equipment suppliers for the new production lines? Which n-type process flow/architecture will emerge as the front-runner? What will polysilicon purity and wafer thickness levels look like for optimized n-type manufacturing? What will the upstream poly/wafer supply-chain look like in 5 years from now?
26 August 2021
In this webinar, JA Solar will present its product portfolio based on the latest technologies to improve your PV projects, ensuring maximum reliability and performance. During the webinar we will receive insight from JA Solar about its solar technology roadmap and how the manufacturer is providing customers with innovative solutions to suit their needs, while we will also analyse how to determine the best product solution for each solar project.
6 September 2021
The 38th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition will be held online from 6 - 10 September 2021, allowing PV experts from all around the globe to participate with just one click! The EU PVSEC is the world's leading forum for PV Research and Development and the biggest Conference on PV Solar Energy worldwide. That is why PV experts from all around the globe are keen on gathering together each year to be part of this specialist’s event, to present and discuss the latest developments in Photovoltaics, to network and to conduct business.

Read Next

August 3, 2021
Solar developer Pacifico Energy has started building work on a 121MWdc solar project on the site of a former golf course in Japan, with juwi Shizen Energy hired as engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor.
August 3, 2021
The Australian state of Victoria has unveiled six grid upgrade projects as part of efforts to unlock new renewables investment.
August 3, 2021
AES Indiana, a subsidiary of power distribution company AES Corporation, is planning to acquire and construct a 250MW PV project paired with a 180MWh energy storage facility in Indiana.
August 3, 2021
The government of Serbia has signed an agreement with US company UGT Renewables to cooperate on the construction of solar and energy storage projects in the Balkan country.
August 3, 2021
American solar panel manufacturers Auxin Solar and Suniva have filed a petition with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to extend a tariff system for cells and modules, despite warnings that it was damaging the US solar industry
August 3, 2021
PV inverter manufacturer SolarEdge Technologies posted record quarterly revenues in Q2, thanks in part to a strong performance in Europe.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
August 19, 2021
At 9am (PT) | 6pm (CEST)
Solar Media Events
August 25, 2021
Solar Media Events
October 6, 2021
Solar Media Events
October 19, 2021