UK: solar could provide record 15% of power during heatwave

The U.K.’s famously unreliable summer has found its mojo this week, delivering conditions that are set to help push solar power penetration to a record 15% of the country’s power, predicts the Solar Trade Association (STA).

Having surged by more than 1.6 GW of new solar PV installations in the first quarter alone, the U.K.’s cumulative solar capacity now stands at around 8 GW.

With conditions slightly cooler on Friday – too much heat can slightly diminish solar panel output – the STA forecasts that the amount of solar power in the U.K.’s electricity mix could hit a new high at around 2pm GMT.

"It is hard to say if a record will be set but given that more and more solar is installed every day, it is likely that a new record is set every time we have good conditions," said an STA spokeswoman. "And this week we are certainly having them."

The STA is hosting its Solar Independence Day around the country today and tomorrow, and will welcome Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom to a solar farm in Northamptonshire as part of the program to spread the solar message.

The shifting sands of the U.K. solar industry have meant that support for large-scale installations, which boomed in 2014, has been reduced, with the new Conservative government eager to promote greater deployment of residential and commercial rooftop solar.

Waitrose, one of the U.K.’s leading supermarket chains, yesterday unveiled its new 186 kW solar roof atop its dairy farm at the Leckford Estate, Hampshire, England. The installation was carried out by developer Hive Energy, and is indicative of solar’s prominence in many businesses’ CSR objectives.

"Waitrose has made a firm commitment to reduce its carbon emissions and installing solar panels at the Leckford Estate farm is just one of the ways in which we are trying to do this," said head of the estate, Andrew Hoad. "Making our own renewable energy on-site is also a great investment."

Government cuts threaten clean energy progress

Despite solar’s progress, the Conservative government is preparing to cut 90% of the staff budget for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) over the next three years – a move that could seriously hinder the U.K.’s ability to face the problems caused by climate change and transition to cleaner energy sources.

According to former energy secretary Ed Davey, these cuts will scare away potential private investment into the sector, and damage both economic growth and environmental progress. "The main effect of slashing the headcount at DECC will be cutting economic growth and undermining private sector investment," Davey told the Guardian, calling DECC an "economic powerhouse" for the U.K.

The Green Alliance – a thinktank formed by leading energy academics – has written to the minister in charge of the cabinet office, Oliver Letwin, stressing that the proposed cuts will serve to undermine the U.K.’s energy industry and bring higher bills to consumers.

"Costs to consumers from energy policy are likely to be higher, and energy supply less secure, if government does not protect its in-house expertise to negotiate contracts with the energy industry, to complete energy market reform, and to develop new energy saving programs for the most vulnerable customers," wrote the thinktank.

A spokesman for DECC moved to allay fears that its objectives would be unmet following the cuts. "Through making savings from underspends last year we have been able to protect spend on priority areas for 2015/16 including keeping the lights on and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said the statement.