UK hits one GW of PV capacity

23. February 2012 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Amongst the doom and gloom surrounding the accelerated and sudden cuts to the German photovoltaic feed-in tariffs (FIT), a glimmer of hope has emerged from an unexpected place. On Wednesday, the U.K. achieved one gigawatt (GW) of installed capacity, illustrating just how much faster than expected the British public and businesses have embraced solar.

The flag of the UK.

The UK solar industry has been able to install around 500 MW in a matter of months, before a new FIT regime comes into effect.

In weekly updated figures, released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), it is clear that milestone has been reached. The figures also show a remarkable trend: since April 2010, when the previous Labour government launched the FIT scheme, the rate of photovoltaic installations has increased exponentially. The installation rate has also received a considerable boost, after the government announced plans to suddenly and dramatically cut FIT rates.

Photovoltaic specialist, for the U.K.’s Renewable Energy Association, Ray Noble said the result emphasized photovoltaic’s potential to be quickly grid connected and in significant volumes. "Reaching this landmark shows the potential solar has to put energy on to the grid faster than any other technology. The IEA said last year that solar could be the biggest energy technology in the world in 50 years, and the IPCC have recently flagged solar as the biggest contributor to tackling climate change," said Noble.

The rate of photovoltaic installations in the U.K. has surprised many, including the government itself. The Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, and other members of the government, have cited the unexpectedly high level of photovoltaic installations as reason to cut the FITs savagely and on short notice.

Cuts to the FITs were scheduled to take place in December and the industry has been scampering to complete installations before that date. However since then, legal appeals against the decision, brought against the government by environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth and a coalition of solar companies, has delayed the implementation of the FIT cuts. Two courts have ruled that the cuts were unlawful. On Tuesday, the Government submitted an appeal against the rulings to the Supreme Court.

The government has changed its tone when referring to the solar industry of late. When announcing its "reformed" FIT regime, to replace the existing one, the DECC revised up its expectations of solar capacity in the coming years. DECC announced that it expected 22 gigawatt of photovoltaics to be installed by 2020. A statement released earlier this month announcing the plan read: "Our new plans will see almost two and a half times more installations than originally projected by 2015, which is good news for the sustainable growth of the industry."

Responding to the government’s ramped-up goals for photovoltaics, Noble said that it is beginning to realize solar’s potential. "We always knew solar had a bright future here in the UK, and at last the Government has recognized it too. The REA and Solar Trade Association are currently working hard to cement the future of the industry within the current consultation and to ensure that solar PV takes its rightful place in the Renewable Energy Roadmap, due to be reviewed later in the year."

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