UK solar PV capacity tops 6.5 GW despite April slowdown

The U.K.’s solar PV sector grew by a mere 0.6% in April this year as just 41 MW of capacity was added, according to data released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

April’s slight solar growth was in stark contrast to the previous month, when the U.K. added 1,095 MW in March as companies rushed to install and connect their PV projects ahead of March 31, when the Renewable Obligation (RO) scheme for solar parks larger than 5 MW was scrapped. This year’s performance was also below that registered in 2014, when 89 MW was added in April.

The RO scheme’s impact on the U.K.’s solar landscape cannot be disputed, however. By the end of April, DECC’s figures show that 2.3 GW of the country’s solar PV capacity was installed under the scheme across 11,346 installations. This figure represents 35% of the country’s entire solar fleet.

With that March 31 deadline looming, the first three months of 2015 compelled the U.K. solar industry to operate at something approaching warp-speed.

Overall Q1 capacity this year was 25% higher than at the same point in 2014, with approximately 1.55 GW of solar added in the first three months of this year. This figure tallies closely to a forecast made in April by IHS, which suggested that the Q1 rush boosted the U.K.’s PV portfolio by 1.6 GW.

Installations grew by 5.7% at the end of Q1 2015, with the U.K, now boasting 687,642 solar installations nationwide. Solar capacity added under the British feed-in tariff (FIT) grew 27% in 2014 year-over-year, reaching 2.8 GW at the end of the year. By the end of March this year, FIT-backed PV capacity stood at 2.99 GW, which represents 46% of the country’s entire solar deployment figure.

While the FIT remains an attractive solar subsidy for U.K. residential and commercial consumers, the RO scheme – now only eligible for large-scale installations smaller than 5 MW – is no longer the carrot it once was. The newly introduced Contracts for Difference (CfD) mechanism has attracted its fair share of criticism from the solar industry; fears that were confounded in the inaugural tender that saw solar projects lose out to competitors in the wind power sector.

London mayor backs rooftop solar

Boris Johnson, London’s colorful mayor, confirmed this week that there will be money ring-fenced in the capital’s budget for the development of solar PV on public buildings throughout the city under the RE:FIT program.

"Both RE:FIT and RE:NEW already have dedicated delivery units that support installation of a range of energy measures, including solar PV," said Johnson.

"The RE:NEW Support Team, launched last summer, contains a resource dedicated to solar and the new RE:NEW framework of suppliers to be launched later this year will have a specific solar contract."

Johnson added that one of the priorities of his 2015/16 budget is to support public sector solar programs, including the installation of PV systems atop school roofs. The Green Party has estimated that the majority of London’s 3,000 schools could accommodate upwards of 25 kW of rooftop solar.

In May, new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, spoke of her desire to “unleash a solar revolution” in the U.K., promising to support the ongoing growth of rooftop solar under the country’s FIT.

DECC has targeted a goal of 22 GW of solar PV capacity by 2020, and is pinning its hopes on the growing commercial rooftop and residential sectors to meet the bulk of that goal, particularly now the pace for large-scale solar has slackened following recent subsidy changes.