It is the beginning of a new chapter for the Italian photovoltaic market: the focus continues to shift from selling a product towards supplying a service. With the publication of a resolution clarifying a number of key points, there is finally a viable future for photovoltaics without the need for incentives: selling energy produced directly at the customer’s address, thanks to Efficient System for Users or SEU (Sistemi Efficienti di Utenza). These consist in configurations for photovoltaic systems or high-yield cogeneration solutions, with a maximum power of 20 MWe. They are managed by a sole producer, who is not the end user, with a direct, private connection to the consumption unit, and can be installed in an area owned or used by the customer.
The economic advantage for the customer is that the energy produced and consumed within the SEU is free from grid and system fees, with lower rates compared to energy withdrawn from the public grid. For the producer, the benefit lies in the sale of the energy at an above-market price. This is favours grid parity.
By the end of March, we should see the final application guidelines which the GSE [Gestore Servizi Energetici, an Italian state-owned company which promotes and supports renewable energy sources] are currently working on. One important question which needs to be settled is whether energy sold within the SEU will be subject to tax.
Certain limits to the use of SEUs are implicit by definition: there must be a single consumer, therefore excluding shopping centres, and energy production must occur on site, meaning that it must be possible for the system to be installed where the user is located.
It is fundamental then, that the consumption profile of the customer corresponds as closely as possible with the production profile of the photovoltaic system. Thus, it is crucial to adapt the size of the installation to suit consumption, maximising self-consumption. Action can also be taken regarding the consumption profile, for example switching from gas to electricity with technology such as heat pumps, employing domotic solutions and storage systems. These represent new economic opportunities for the companies working in the sector.
The power of the systems is also important: installations of at least a few hundred kW are preferable. In addition to customers’ energy profile, it is essential to evaluate their financial stability. The business plan is centred around the customer.
This means a far more complex business model, which won’t be for everyone. Those using photovoltaics in the field of SEUs will have to play the role of energy manager and operate comprehensive services encompassing all the various technologies, but above all they will have to demonstrate strong financial know-how.
In March, QualEnergia.it will publish a Special Technical Guide focused on the regulatory and economic considerations relating to SEUs. Moreover this argument will be dealt with in the section congress of the next edition of Solarexpo-The Innovation Cloud (Fiera Milano, 7-9 may 2014).