UK solar capacity now over 2GW

by James Martin II on February 12, 2013

The UK has joined the club of nations to have installed more than 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, making it one of the top 10 solar PV markets in the world, according to NPD Solarbuzz’s Marketbuzz 2013 report. The UK installed even more solar PV capacity (965GW) in the year 2012 than it did in the feed-in tariff boom year 2011, pointing towards long-term sustainability for the industry as a whole. The 2GW milestone is not a huge surprise for many involved in the industry, but it may surprise other that a country with a reputation for inclement weather could have made so much progress with solar. It has been government support for both home solar systems and commercial-scale solar installations that has resulted in this dramatic uptake in solar power throughout the country.

The two main support schemes for renewable energy such as solar panels–the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) requirement (usually applied to larger-scale solar farms and solar parks) and the UK’s feed-in tariff (more popular with smaller systems)–have done a fantastic job of improving the value proposition of investing in solar power in the UK. These programs are helping the UK on its path towards achieving both its 2020 goal of 15% of all electricity coming from renewable energy, as well as an installed solar capacity of 22GW by the same year.

This latter goal has been reaffirmed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as recently as November 2012. Although there is lack of clarity about how this ambitious goal can actually be met while subsidies are on the decline has been a topic of some speculation, the DECC has introduced a solar PV roadmap to clear the way for the industry.

“We stand on the threshold of 2 GW. So let us unite together behind solar coming of age and the benefits it brings to economy, our communities and our renewable energy mix. But this is just the beginning. By the 2020s I want and believe solar to provide up to 20 GW of our energy needs,” said Barker at the announcement of the launch of 6 ‘solar roadshows’ to take place in support of the UK’s solar PV ambitions.

The UK’s solar industry did well in 2012 despite significant and sometimes unpredictable drops in the generous feed-in tariff rates that had been its main driver in the previous year. The healthy number of installations was attributed to a number of factors, including the more stable policy environment that replaced 2011′s tumultuous one. Another significant reason for the good performance was the falling cost of installing a solar PV system–now only a fraction of what it was when feed-in tariffs were first introduced into the UK in 2008.

One of the other key factors in the growing popularity of solar panels in the UK is the rising cost of electricity. Since households and businesses who have solar systems installed produce a portion of their own power, there amount of power they need to purchase from the electrical grid is reduced, saving them money. Solar panels have been dubbed one of the most effective ways to safeguard against this ongoing trend–which is not expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

Conditions point to another sustainable year for solar PV growth in the UK, and longer-term predictions are also positive. Rexel Energy and IMS research, for example, has estimated that the UK could install another 6GW of solar within the next 3 years. At least one analyst has predicted that half off the UK’s energy generation capacity will be made up of renewables by the year 2025.

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