UK to add 1.3 GW utility-scale solar in Q1 2015, says IHS

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The first three months of next year will see record-breaking levels of utility-scale solar PV installations in the U.K. as developers rush to complete projects before April 1, 2015, according to IHS.

From that date, ground-mount solar PV systems larger than 5 MW will no longer be eligible to receive subsidy under the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) scheme, prompting a rush that will see as much as 1.3 GW of utility-scale solar added.

Taking Q4 of this year and Q1 of 2015 combined, almost 1.8 GW of large-scale solar PV capacity will be added in the U.K. over these six months – a massive increase on an already-bumper year for U.K. solar. Although IHS has revised its forecast for 2014 down from 3.2 GW to 2.8 GW, that figure still represents the largest in Europe.

However, this pre-ROC withdrawal rush is creating a bottleneck that will leave around one-in-five proposed solar developments disappointed. According to IHS, some 20% of the 6.2 GW of solar projects in the pipeline will not be permitted to proceed, largely because a number of local authorities in the U.K. have begun to refuse permit applications due to the current surge.

After April 1 next year, large-scale solar PV installations will instead have to compete with onshore wind projects for a pot of the subsidy money allocated in the new Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, which critics argue is tilted in favor of alternative energy sources.

Because of these predicted difficulties in obtaining subsidy for large-scale solar installations, IHS expects many developers to shift focus instead to sub-5 MW ground-mount projects – which will still be eligible for the ROCs – and commercial rooftop developments.

Companies such as Lightsource Renewable Energy have already begun making large strides in the commercial rooftop sector, and the potential to offer new financing models to customers and building owners suggests that the U.K. solar industry can evolve satisfactorily along these lines.

Whether U.K. solar will still lead Europe at the end of 2015 remains to be seen. A looming general election in May 2015 could dramatically alter the solar landscape in favor, or against, solar PV – prompting very few analysts to dare to predict what might happen in the latter half of next year.