UK hits 5 GW solar PV capacity

Solar analysts NPD Solarbuzz have today published data that shows the U.K. has now installed 5 GW of cumulative solar PV, making it the sixth country in the world to surpass this landmark figure.

The analysts’ finding reveal that 90% of the U.K.’s capacity has been installed in the past three years (with 1 GW coming online in the first six months of this year), and nearly half of all deployed PV in the country is located in England’s southern regions – the South West and South East of England combined account for 46% of all PV capacity. The dry, sunny east of England boasts 15% of installed capacity, whereas cramped London and cloudy Northern Ireland can only muster 1% each.

The largest segment remains the U.K.’s small-scale sector, which is largely comprised of residential rooftop and commercial systems eligible for the country’s feed-in tariff (FIT). This segment accounts for 42% of all PV installation capacity, followed by the ground-mounted segment – eligible for the soon-to-be abolished Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) – with 39% of the market. Alone, the U.K.’s residential market comprises one-third of the total 5 GW figure, while large-scale solar farms of 50 acres or more are now responsible for 20% of the total installed PV figure, having surged in popularity over the past 18 months.

The top five leading solar PV countries in the world in terms of cumulative capacity are Germany – way out in front with more than 37 GW of solar PV installed – followed by China, Japan, Italy and the U.S. Each of the top five boasts in excess of 10 GW cumulative capacity installed, indicating that the U.K. still has some way to go before it can even contemplate breaking into that select band.

Nevertheless, solar’s growth in the U.K. over the past two years especially has been extremely encouraging, with the industry now capable of powering 6% of all British households.

Changes to subsidy support due next April will likely slow the growth of the U.K.’s ground-mount sector (as ROCs are replaced with the less profitable Contracts for Difference [CfD] scheme), but the U.K. government is adamant that it will continue to support growth in the rooftop market – a segment that has potential but lacks clear policy and incentive drivers, particularly for systems larger than 250 kW.

Legal challenges

The removal of the ROC scheme next year drew fierce criticism from the U.K.’s largest solar companies, who have since requested a judicial review of the government’s decision, claiming that the early removal of the scheme was unlawful and damaging for the industry.

"Solar is tantalizingly close to becoming subsidy-free in the U.K., meaning cheaper bills for consumers, and we want to achieve this goal as quickly as possible," said the MD of TGC Renewables Ben Cosh.

TGC Renewables, along with SolarCentury, Lark Energy and Orta Solar Farms were the four chief claimants calling for the judicial review earlier this month, and in July the High Court ruled that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) had acted unlawfully in not providing solar installers with sufficient notice that the FIT was going to be cut as early as it was.