UK solar output approaches a doubling of coal generation in May


While describing it as "largely symbolic," Carbon Brief has noted the rapid growth of solar PV in the UK, while observing that coal generation continues to decline.

Solar was responsible for 6% of the UK's electricity generation in May, with coal supplying just 4%. The result stands in stark contrast to January when solar contributed just 1% and coal 17%.

The Carbon Brief sourced the solar generation data from Sheffield Solar and the coal figures from Gridwatch.

"While these milestones are largely symbolic, they do highlight the major changes going on in the UK electricity system," the Carbon Brief observed. "There has been a huge reduction in coal-fired power generation in the UK since the start of 2016."

Carbon Brief notes that coal supplied almost a quarter of the UK's electricity in 2015, with that falling sharply thus far in 2016. "Power market economics have shifted in favor of gas, and several coal plants have opted to close."

Figures from the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) revealed that all renewables combined outstripped electricity production from coal for the first time in Q2 2015.

The UK's Solar Trade Association said that the May result is an "impressive milestone" demonstrating solar's growing role in UK power markets.

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"We now have more than 10GW of solar PV installed in the UK and we hope this will continue to rise as we move away from coal towards a smart, clean energy future," the STA's Sonia Dunlop told pv magazine. She added, however, that solar's march towards competitiveness with generation sources such as gas has been hamstrung by a lack of new projects.

"If you had asked us how solar matches up to gas a year or two ago we would have said that large-scale solar was on a trajectory to be competitive with gas by the end of the decade," said Dunlop. "However with no new auctions under the Contracts for Difference scheme and the end of the Renewables Obligation, there is effect no route to market for solar above 1MW. On the other hand, no new gas is being built without subsidy – everything is up in the air."

After rapid growth in recent years and the UK accounting for half of the EU's new installed PV capacity in 2015, the market is in a steep decline after subsidy cuts. The STA says that it has seen a "sharp slowdown" in solar deployment and job losses.

"We will soon release the results of a survey we have conducted with PwC, with early findings showing significant job losses for UK industry. Over the longer term, we very much hope business models will adapt, demand will return and the market will rebuild in the years ahead, however this is a very difficult time for the UK solar industry."

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