The UK saw the addition of 1.94 GW of new PV systems in 2016, according to provisional statistics released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Last year’s result represents a significant decline on 2015, when 4.13 GW of new solar installations were connected to the grid. In 2014 and 2013, the new installed PV capacity came in at 2.55 GW and 1.09 GW, respectively.
The BEIS reports that the UK had reached a cumulative installed PV capacity of 11.49 GW by the end of January 2017. Most of this capacity was in the form of PV projects larger than 25 MW (1,409 MW), PV plants with a power range of 5 MW to 25 MW (4,116 MW) and systems ranging in size from 50 kW to 5 MW (2,703 MW). As for the residential and commercial segments, PV installations with a power of up to 4 kW represented the largest share with 2,412 MW, while PV systems with a power range of 4 kW to 50 kW account for the remaining capacity.
BEIS specified that the cumulative capacity registered at the end of 2016, namely 11,490 MW, also comprises the first PV plant installed under the country’s Contracts for Differences (CfD) scheme, the Charity solar farm (11.9 MW).
The BEIS also stressed that, within the last 12 months, the largest increase in capacity was registered in March 2016 (1,183 MW), just before the Renewable Obligation (RO) scheme for large-scale renewable energy projects was closed to installations smaller than 5 MW. The RO grace period for certain qualifying installations, ranging in size from 50 kW – 5 MW, will close at the end of this month.
BEIS notes that the numbers for January 2017 are only provisional and that these are “likely to be revised upwards as further data are received on newly operational sites.” However, new additions for the first month of this year reached a very disappointing 9 MW. This comprised 3,192 installations, most of which were rooftop PV systems with a capacity of up to 4 kW. In January 2017, newly installed PV capacity came in at 203 MW.
The UK Solar Trade Association believes that this low level of development is mainly due to the ROC program being wound up and the design of the CfD program, which is not favorable to large scale PV.
“It makes no sense for the Government to curtail solar to this extent,” Nick Wood from the STA told pv magazine, “particularly as it requires very little support in the UK. Alongside onshore wind large-scale solar is already the cheapest renewable, almost competitive with gas, and with a stable market would be the cheapest of all technologies by the mid-2020s. Shutting out our cheapest generation is not good for competition or for consumers.”
Many of the UK's renewable energy and solar associations claim that the new CfD scheme large-scale renewable energy power projects has not been particularly beneficial to solar and that it has been an inadequate replacement for the RO program.