UK Q1 rush added 1.6 GW of solar, says IHS

The U.K. solar PV sector added a record 1.6 GW of new capacity in the first three months of 2015 as installers rushed to complete projects ahead of a March 31 deadline that saw the Renewable Obligation (RO) support scheme come to an end for PV plants larger than 5 MW.

Data from IHS revealed that at least 110 PV projects with a combined capacity of 1.6 GW were connected to the grid in the first quarter of the year, taking the total number of large-scale solar plants in the U.K. to 311. Collectively, these installations have a capacity of 3.8 GW, or 51% of the U.K.’s total solar PV capacity, which now stands at 7.5 GW.

"As in markets like Germany, France and Italy, PV developers and installers in the U.K. try to demonstrate how fast they can build large PV plants, once the paperwork has cleared,” said senior analyst for solar power at IHS, Josefin Berg. "In fact, some of these projects received their permits as late as early February of this year."

Post-rush, the pace of installations may have tailed off somewhat but interest in the U.K. market has not yet cooled, added Berg. "How policy makers will react to this market pace remains to be seen, as we will not know much before the coming elections." The U.K. goes to the polls on May 7, and the outcome of the general election could go some way to deciding just how hot the solar market becomes for the remainder of the year.

What is certain, however, is that the first quarter was unprecedented for the British solar landscape. The IHS UK Deal Tracker report found that 10 of the largest developers control around half of the total PV capacity in the country, with Lightsource, TerraForm Power and Bluefield LLP the leading developers, with one-third of all installations, IHS found.

Looking ahead, IHS added that there are 500 projects in the U.K. pipeline that are larger than 5 MW and hence would be ineligible for the RO subsidy. While a handful of those projects were granted a grace period approval for connection by the government, others will either have to be scrapped entirely, reduced to below 5 MW or submitted to the "highly oversubscribed" Contracts for Difference (CfD) tenders, said Berg.