On the eve of the UK subsidy cut, the future is looking glum for European solar


Once a shining example of solar capacity installations, the slashing of solar subsidies across the continent has hit the European market hard over recent years. The U.K. was the exception to that rule. After originally lagging behind its European neighbors, the U.K.’s solar market really kicked into gear through 2014 and 2015. However, the axe has finally fallen on the country’s solar subsidy program, which leaves the continent’s solar industry in a precarious position.

While the rest of Europe stuttered in 2015, the U.K. added 3.7 GW of solar capacity. This was enough to grow the country’s capacity by about 50%, and accounted for almost half of all installations across the continent. Germany came in second by adding 1,460 MW of capacity, while France came third after adding just 879MW. The rest of the continent added a combined total of 2,074MW, so overall, solar capacity within Europe grew by 15%, but this was chiefly driven by the U.K.

On 1 April the U.K. will join Germany, Italy and Spain in cutting its generous subsidies for large-scale solar installations. It is cancelling its Renewable Obligation Certificate subsidy program for solar plants smaller than 5MW, leaving large-scale solar plants with a reduced feed-in-tariff as their only existing incentive. This is likely to dramatically undermine solar growth in the country.

SolarPower Europe chief executive James Watson believes that there will still be some growth in the U.K.’s solar market in 2016, as many solar projects will still be eligible for the subsidies due to a grace period being agreed. He expects the U.K. to install 2 GW to 2.5 GW of solar in 2016, as companies rush to be the last to take advantage of the subsidies.

However, SMA Solar found that the U.K.’s solar market grew slower than expected in the first quarter of 2016. Chief executive of the German company Pierre-Pascal Urbon said that a rush on solar panels ahead of the subsidy cuts had failed to materialize.

With the forecasted rush in the U.K., SolarPower Europe expected that European installation would reach 7 GW in 2016. This is less than 2015, but may be even lower if the U.K. fails to install the 2 GW to 2.5 GW that it had predicted. And 2017 looks even glummer, as no large European countries have prioritized solar capacity growth.