UK: Lightsource connects 100 MW of solar in just one month, introduces merchant post-subsidy model

The surging growth of the U.K. solar industry may be going through its final death throes ahead of severe cuts later this quarter, but the sector still has the capacity to go big even in the depths of winter.

Despite the U.K. experiencing its wettest December on record, British solar developer Lightsource Renewable Energy successfully connected 23 new ground-mounted solar farms, adding 100 MW to its growing U.K. PV portfolio.

Of the 23 solar farms, 14 were connected via the feed-in tariff (FIT), which is due to be drastically scaled back in February, while the remaining nine solar farms were eligible for the Renewable Obligations Certificate (ROC), which will end on March 31.

Prior to that date, Lightsource has confirmed that it plans to connect a further 14 ground-mounted solar farms in the U.K., adding a further 92 MW of solar PV capacity to the U.K. grid before the changes in policy arrive. Once completed, Lightsource’s total U.K. solar portfolio will stand at 1.3 GW.

Post April 1, Lightsource will install and connect its first subsidy-free solar farms in 2016 via a private-wire PPA that will see large-scale solar sites “hard-wired” directly into large electricity users. This merchant power mechanism will enable them to source solar energy directly from site at retail prices some way below current electricity rates.

The cloud of uncertainty hanging over the U.K. solar industry has caused many solar firms to take stock of their U.K. portfolios and devise new ways to make the market attractive for them. Lightsource CEO Nick Boyle stressed that 2015 was still a good year for British solar, and hopes that 2016 can be similarly gratifying.

"While we are still taking stock of the recent government announcements concerning solar subsidies, we have big plans for 2016 and expect it to be another busy year," Boyle said. "The U.K. solar industry has made great strides towards a subsidy-free environment. During the FIT and ROC regimes, we have worked hard to drive down costs and built a solid base of knowledge and expertise that has prepared us for developing our first large-scale sites free of government support."

Boyle added that the FIT cut was, however, a shame, and will serve to diminish the potential of the U.K.’s residential and commercial rooftop markets.

A report released yesterday by EnAppSys revealed that solar PV electricity generation in the U.K. has now surpassed hydropower for the first time ever, adding 7.1 TWh of electricity to the national grid in 2015. This data was well above official government projections for solar, which had calculated that such levels would not be reached until 2020 to 2030.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) revealed at the beginning of the week that the U.K.’s cumulative solar PV capacity now stands at 8.4 GW, with more than 3.4 GW added in the first 11 months of 2015 and a Q1 boom for 2016 expected as developers rush to beat the subsidy deadline.