UK to lose solar investment after developer criticizes lack of incentives

The UK is set to lose out on a high-profile solar investment after developer Oxford PV said it was the “least attractive” market for its new factory and was more likely to list in New York or Hong Kong.

The city-based photovoltaics company, which was spun off from the University of Oxford in 2010, announced on Wednesday that the efficiency of commercially available solar panels has set a record.

But Chris Case, its chief technology officer, told the Financial Times that between continental Europe, the US and the UK, the latter was the “least attractive” location for the factory to make the cells because there were no incentives.

“It seems to me that the rest of the world is into solar and the UK is not,” he said, adding that “Germany and the US are strong candidates” for the production site.

The criticism comes after the Climate Change Commission, the UK government’s statutory advisers, warned in a report on Wednesday that the UK risks missing out on new green industries by failing to develop the necessary workforce skills.

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Oxford PV declined to disclose details of its finances. In its most recent accounts, it posted a pre-tax loss of £21.5m in 2021 and raised £50m through a third-party loan. The new solar cell will be the first product it has commercialized.

Chris Case, Chief Technology Officer, Oxford PV
Oxford PV chief technology officer Chris Case prefers Germany or the US for the new factory

Case has said it intends to take part in a new round of funding worth hundreds of millions of pounds to manufacture its proprietary technology and is considering an IPO. But he said: “For us, and for me personally, the most attractive markets to go public are things like the Nasdaq and the Hong Kong markets, but not so much the UK.”

The government is under increasing pressure from former ministers and industry to develop an industrial strategy to help the UK compete in the global race to attract technologies key to the green transition.

Both the US and the EU have announced broad proposals to boost renewable energy and battery technology in a bid to catch up with China, whose massive subsidies have made it dominant in most clean energy supply chains.

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Oxford PV’s current test factory is located near Berlin. According to Case, the decision was made because the UK offered “zero in terms of incentives”, while the German government provided around 20 per cent of the required capital.

Diagram showing the efficiency of perovskite solar cells.

“It was quite disappointing that a technology that was born and bred in the UK but was commercialized elsewhere,” Case said.

The CCC, meanwhile, highlighted intense competition for green investment from Europe and the US, adding that Britain would lose market share unless it promoted “skills that attract investment to the UK”.

The UK “needs to protect its competitive advantage” in areas such as hydrogen and carbon capture, he added.

The CCC said up to 725,000 net jobs could be created in areas such as electric vehicles and renewable energy generation, but warned that this growth was “not guaranteed” and would require “active retraining” and public support.

The business division did not respond to requests for comment.

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The technology, developed by Oxford PV and independently verified by Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE research institute, sets a record 28.6 percent efficiency in converting sunlight into energy, roughly a 5 percentage point improvement over typical silicon cells. This was made possible by developments in the use of perovskite, a mineral derived from calcium titanate.

In April, scientists achieved a record of 33.2 percent for the most efficient perovskite silicon cell, but only in the case of a laboratory model.

Oxford PV said solar panels using its cells could be on the market early next year.

The company is partly owned by Swiss solar developer Meyer Burger and Chinese renewable energy company Goldwind. Neither had access to Oxford’s PV technology, Case said.