The UK boasts 650,000 solar installations across homes, offices, schools, churches, warehouses, farms, police stations, train stations and even a bridge. It’s been one of the fastest growing solar markets in Europe. At the end of 2013, there were 2.8GW of solar power arrays installed, but by the end of 2014 this figure climbed to 5GW or nearly double in only 12 months. However, drastic and discriminatory changes in renewable subsidies to come in effect in May of this year are expected to collapse solar development to 1% of its current level.
At peak production, the UK solar industry now makes enough to power 1.5 million homes, approaching 10% of the UK’s peak power demand.
Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association said: “This milestone achievement is testament to the hard work of Britain’s several thousand solar businesses, almost of all of them small and medium sized companies, who are all at the forefront of a real solar transformation as the technology steadily becomes one of the cheapest sources of clean, home-grown power.”
Barwell added: “Analysis has shown that solar is the most popular form of energy generation, and could provide 50,000 jobs by 2030 if given the right support.”
“Solar clearly works in Britain. Panels in London generate 65% as much energy as in Madrid, and the panels work more efficiently in cooler temperatures.”
They might have had the right support once, but this is set to change. Last week, the government announced that only five large (over 5MW) new solar installations will be supported under its new ‘Contracts for Difference’ (CFD) system. During the auction, solar companies had to battle with other renewable sectors like onshore wind, landfill gas, hydro for a share of £50m for the next year. A measly subsidy compared to the £3.1bn the government is spending under its established Renewables Obligation (RO) support mechanism for 2014/15. RO is set to continue until 2017 at least, but oddly enough it specifically excludes solar from receiving grants.
“Unfortunately this result is as disappointing as we predicted. The soon to be cheapest and most popular renewable – solar power – has lost out in a complex auction scheme that favours big players and genuinely established technologies,” Barwell comments.
The CfD results means that contracts enabling just 32 MW of solar, enough to power 7,000 homes, will be built in the next financial year– even including sub 5 MW solar, this represents a huge drop in the market compared to the current financial year when 2–3 GW of large-scale solar is estimated to be built. The five solar projects selected from the CFD auction came in at the lowest prices of all the 27 winners, at £50 and £79.23 per MWh. For comparison, onshore wind projects bid at £82.50. This seems to strengthen the idea that solar is the cheapest form of renewable energy in the UK, but apparently the policymakers don’t know this for a fact about solar. Sure, there are pros and cos to solar, but just look at the numbers and be the judge.
In 2012, the government halved the subsidy given to UK homeowners that wished to install solar panels on their property. Unsurprisingly, since then the weekly domestic solar panel installation rate has dropped by 54% with numbers failing to match those of the previous year.