Brits in thrall to solar as PV tops power desirability chart


The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has revealed in its tenth public attitude tracker that solar power remains the most popular energy generation technology in the U.K.

British consumers polled in the tracker gave their overwhelming support for renewable energy, with 79% expressing their desire to see more clean power deployed across the U.K. Of that figure, solar was backed by 82%, far ahead of wave and tidal power (73%), offshore wind (72%) and onshore wind (67%).

Despite concerns that solar could go the way of onshore wind in the public’s perception, this latest opinion poll appears to suggest that the government’s assumptions were misplaced. In stripping the utility scale sector of the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) support scheme next April in favor of continued support for rooftop solar, the U.K. government could inadvertently be undermining the very industry that the British public would like to see grow.

The U.K. recently surpassed 5 GW of installed solar power, largely driven in 2014 by deployments of solar farms larger than 5 MW. While DECC’s public opinion tracker does not ask consumers what types of solar power they prefer (residential, commercial rooftop, or utility scale), the impressive growth of large-scale projects in the U.K. over the past 18 months cannot have gone unnoticed by the majority of the populace.

Meanwhile, support for shale gas or ‘fracking’ has slipped, with a mere 24% of Brits happy with for the government to pursue it as a viable energy source, down from 29% in March. The U.K. Onshore Oil and Gas body published a similar poll earlier this year that claimed 59% public backing for shale gas. However, that survey was roundly criticized by the energy industry for peppering the survey with leading questions.

"Less than a quarter of the British public now support fracking generally, and there is even less support when drilling happens locally," said Greenpeace U.K. chief scientist Doug Parr. "Shale drilling is far less popular than clean alternatives like solar and wind, yet it enjoys preferential treatment from ministers.

"The government’s official numbers… cannot disguise how [Prime Minister] Cameron’s ‘all out for shale’ push is turned into a toxic mix of hype, spin and secrecy."

Solar’s popular perception, and the encouraging pace of the sector’s development in 2014, has pushed the number of solar PV systems in operation in the U.K. above half a million to 572,102, putting the sector on course to hit the government’s goal of 15% solar energy generation feeding the power mix by 2020.

However, current solar penetration rates remain relatively low, with solar power (PV and thermal combined) accounting for 3.3% of the entire energy mix of the U.K., according to DECC’s official figures.