UK National Solar Centre opens

The BRE National Solar Centre (NSC) has been formally opened in southwest England by UK energy minister Greg Barker, underpinning the hopes among Britain’s PV sector that it is at last on a more stable growth path.

The NSC will operate under the aegis of the Building Research Establishment, a once-public, now-private organisation which conducts research and testing for the country’s building and construction sectors. 

As such, a heavy emphasis of the NSC will be establishing firmer standards for PV installations in the UK, researching future building-integrated PV applications, and collecting data on existing installations.

Contrary to its name, the NSM will not be directly funded by the UK government. Rather, it was established using £870,000 ($1.3m) provided by the European Regional Development fund, and matching funds contributed by nearly two dozen actors in the UK solar sector – including homegrown players like SolarCentury and Orta, German firms like Fronius and Conergy, and Chinese suppliers like Trina and Yingli. 

Nevertheless, the UK’s coalition government has expressed effusive support for the institution, claiming its creation will bolster Whitehall’s recent pivot towards solar energy – including its 20GW target for 2020.

The government is due to publish a National Solar Strategy later this year.

The NSC “will play a fundamental role in driving forward the solar industry here in the UK”, Barker says, adding that it will help to lower costs, drive innovation and strengthen confidence in the marketplace.

Barry Marsh, who has acted as a PV consultant after his installation business was acquired by British Gas, will act as the NSC’s first director. Ray Noble and Martin Cotterell, both well known figures in the local industry, will act as associate consultants.

The UK solar market has grown rapidly over the past few years, in spite of a chaotic attempt by the government to retroactively rein in incentives.

However, the industry faces significant challenges – not least the possibility of anti-dumping and countervailing tariffs on Chinese PV kit, which would be damaging to the downstream UK market.