STA: Britain breaks solar production record

While German records for solar production, as a share of total electricity, are more-or-less commonplace in recent times, the UK is joining the club. Over last weekend, the UK solar trade body the STA predicts that 3.9% of the UK’s electricity demand was met by solar.

Exact figures for solar’s contribution to the UK’s electricity mix is difficult to ascertain as residential rooftop production figures are not collected, but nonetheless the STA figures demonstrate the rapid growth occurring in Britain’s solar sector.

STA figures show that the UK currently has an installed PV capacity of 4.5 GW. With clear skies experienced over much of the country during the summer solstice, the solar trade body said that the figures and weather couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Midsummer’s day – epitomized by Stonehenge and immortalized by Shakespeare – is a reminder of how Britain has been celebrating the sun for over 4000 years,” said the STA’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene. “In the 21st Century clean solar power can revolutionize how we power our homes and businesses.”

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate (DECC) change tracks public support for renewable energy. Its figures show that even with the solar industry’s rapid growth in the UK, it remains the country’s most popular energy source. Figures from DECC’s “Opinion Tracker” show that solar enjoys a public approval rating of 85%.

Political headwinds

While this impressive result is bound to turn heads, there is considerable uncertainty facing the UK solar industry in the mid-term. The STA said that the summer solstice and the solar production record comes when the industry, “is fighting for equal treatment from the government, which is uniquely disadvantaging solar power.”

On July 7, the government is widely expected to announce a determination as to whether large-scale solar will continue to receive subsidies under the current ROC scheme. Despite this, UK energy minister Greg Barker is still making positive sounds about the contribution solar can make in the country.

“There is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy as part of our long term economic plan,” said Barker.

Despite this rhetoric and the weekend’s figures from the STA, some in the UK remains deeply skeptical of the contribution that solar can make in Britain’s transition to a low-carbon economy. Ahead of the summer solstice weekend, prominent UK environmentalist, author and columnist George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian that while solar continues to be the only energy source that is viewed in an overwhelmingly positive light by the British public, it is not what is required to meet the country’s energy transition challenge.

“Though the costs will keep falling, solar power is unlikely to make a large contribution to electricity supply in the UK, unless a radically different technology becomes viable.,” wrote Monbiot. “It has some potential for mitigating carbon emissions in the summer, especially with the use of smart grids, but it seems to me that for a long time to come there are likely to be cheaper and simpler means of achieving the same aim. I would like to be proved wrong on this, but I don’t think it will happen.”