COMPANIES in Devon are reaping the benefits of growing demand for solar energy technology.
The number of renewable electricity installations in the South West has more than doubled over the past year, according to Exeter-based independent renewable energy experts Regen SW.
Some 2,451 projects were installed in 2010/2011, bringing the region's total to 3,982. Solar panel – or photovoltaic (PV) – installations made up 97 per cent of new renewable electricity projects in 2010/11, a trend driven by the Government's Feed-in-Tariffs, which offer financial incentives to generate green energy.
Regen SW said this expansion has resulted in a rapid increase in jobs, with some installers reporting doubling or even tripling their workforce.
One company benefiting from homeowners' eagerness to embrace solar panels is Honiton-based Eco Systems SW.
Director Matt Stacey said: "Demand for solar PV has literally hit the roof, if you'll excuse the pun. Demand last year was good, but this year we have witnessed a 57 per cent increase.
"Most people we talk to are looking to install solar PV from an investment point of view – with an average nine per cent return on the investment, it makes financial sense."
Devon has the highest number of installed renewable electricity projects, at 982, though Cornwall remains the South West's biggest generator of green energy, with more than a third of the region's renewable heat and electricity capacity.
As the Echo recently reported, Exeter-based Atass Energy is aiming to install panels on 4,000 rooftops across the Westcountry, with five houses in Langaton Gardens, Pinhoe, among the first to benefit.
The firm installs the panels free of charge and recoups its costs by claiming the Feed-In-Tariffs, while residents enjoy periods of free energy every day for 25 years.
Another city firm specialising in renewable energy systems, Sungift Solar, has grown steadily since it was founded in 2006 by director Gabriel Wondrausch, doubling its annual turnover every year.
The company now employs about 30 people and was shortlisted for the Business of the Year accolade in the inaugural Express & Echo Business Awards.
The potential for renewable energy to create high-value employment in the region was highlighted in a recent report by Regen SW.
Its chief executive Merlin Hyman said: "As the growth in the past year shows, renewable energy is the greatest economic opportunity of the next decade and we have great resources locally – but to make the most of this opportunity we need a clear national policy framework and ambitious plans to support local firms."