UK: solar installed by independent entrepreneurs topped 2 GW in 2015, study finds


The role that independent renewable generators played in the U.K.’s energy landscape increased significantly last year, rising to 7.6% of the country’s power demand following an investment of more than £1 billion ($1.45 billion) into the sector, finds a new report.

The fourth annual Energy Entrepreneurs Report by SmartestEnergy found that more than 2 GW of new solar PV capacity added in the U.K. in 2015 came from independent sources. Despite the removal of the renewable obligation certificate (ROC) for large scale (> 5 MW) solar farms from April 1 last year, more than 696 new independent solar projects were completed in 2015.

This represented an 83% growth in the independent solar sector in the space of a year, as solar investment formed the bulk of the £1 billion spent by energy entrepreneurs, which includes landowners and farmers.

Growth in onshore wind slowed, however, to just 233 new projects cumulatively adding 263 MW of capacity. The SmartestEnergy survey found that increased difficult in securing planning consent and grid access stymied the onshore wind power sector.

Overall, 2.15 GW of new clean power capacity was built by independent developers last year, with business sectors investing increasingly in onsite generation projects: this sector was dominated by retailers and wholesalers installing solar PV atop of their roofs. In all, 88 new projects added 9.3 MW of new capacity in this sector, while farmers and landowners added 56 MW of new capacity.

There were eight large-scale community clean energy projects last year, mostly in solar, which added more than 10 MW of new capacity. In total, more than 5,000 independent energy projects were completed in the U.K. in 2015, more than doubling independent capacity from 4.7 GW to nearly 11 GW, and accounting for 40% of the U.K.’s renewable energy capacity.

"Energy entrepreneurs are indispensable to Britain’s energy future, driving change towards a flexible, efficient, low-carbon power system," said SmartestEnergy CEO Robert Groves. "They are creating new jobs, improving our energy security, and helping to meet climate change targets."

Groves added that traditional electricity supply companies are "in no shape to deliver the change” required, singling out the fabled ‘Big Six’ energy companies as acutely ill-prepared for this low-carbon transition. “By contrast," he said, "energy entrepreneurs are small, nimble and innovative. They have attracted a global pool of capital to invest in Britain’s renewable capacity and are taking advantage of technologies like wind and solar, which are rapidly coming down the cost curve."

Government has role to play

Despite the increasingly grass-roots nature of the U.K.’s clean energy landscape, the government needs to ensure that it aids confident investment into the sector by nurturing a policy framework that supports independent generators and investors. This, Groves said, is key to ensuring the U.K. meets its climate change objectives.

"Government needs to restore confidence to the industry by providing stable policy and certainty," remarked Groves. "It should ensure that the capacity market allows all participants to compete on a level playing field, and it should also work with the industry to develop frameworks to encourage the roll out of energy storage and maximize its ability to accommodate the growing amount of renewables on the grid."

The SmartestEnergy report analyzes the potential impact of electricity storage on the U.K. energy landscape, and includes a calculation by the National Infrastructure Commission that forecast savings of up to £8 billion per year by 2030 if batteries were adopted into grid services at scale.

By region, the report also found solar is the dominant technology in England, accounting for 52% of total renewable capacity, whereas in Wales it is onshore wind (47% of capacity, followed by solar on 38%), with Scotland’s clean energy landscape also dominated by onshore wind (85.6%).

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