Official statistics illustrate UK solar market’s sluggish growth

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Only 72 MW of new PV installations were added in the U.K. in the first four months of 2018, according to the latest provisional statistics released by the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Despite BEIS’ usual caveat that the figures are provisional and may be revised upwards over the coming months, the comparison with the first four months of 2017 – when 748 MW of new solar was deployed – clearly shows the market is seeing a worse than expected slowdown.

In April new additions totaled only 9 MW, while in March new grid-connected PV systems tallied 13 MW. In January and February, newly installed solar capacity added up to just 35 MW and 15 MW, respectively. Overall, in 2017 new PV installations totaled 883 MW at an average monthly growth trend of around 73.5 MW.

By segment, the largest proportion of U.K. solar is still represented by PV plants of 5-25 MW in size, which account for 4.30 GW, while larger PV projects have a share of 1.51 GW. Plants with a capacity of between 50 kW and 5 MW achieved a notable 3.42 GW.

In the residential and commercial segment, the largest category is that for systems up to 4 kW in size – which account for 2.55 GW – followed by installations ranging from 10 kW to 50 kW (777.1 MW) and projects with a capacity of 4 kW to 10 kW (220.2 MW).

BEIS however, stressed that figures for total cumulative capacity may rise, as the numbers for March 2017 are constantly being revised. Installed capacity for that month – in which the grace period for the renewable obligation (RO) certificate scheme for large-scale solar and renewables expired – has grown to 627 MW with the publication of this month’s statistics.

BEIS also says the statistics include two solar plants accredited for the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, the Charity and Triangle solar farms, totaling 22 MW. The CfD scheme, however, produced poor results in terms of assigned projects for PV, with wind power accounting for most of the new capacity. The scheme which brought the best results was the RO system for ground-mounted projects, which delivered more than 5.3 GW. Good results were also driven by the FIT scheme for grid-connected projects, which accounted for 3.8 GW.

In a statement to pv magazine, the head of external affairs at U.K. trade body the Solar Trade Association (STA), Leonie Green, said the STA does not expect new capacity figures to get much higher this year, and that the slowdown is due to well-known issues in the British solar market.

Ms Green cited, among other concerns, the exclusion of large-scale solar from the CfD scheme, the lack of a proposal for a post FIT framework from BEIS, and the 2016 re-working of the FIT program, which she says proved too constrained to work for commercial rooftop solar.

“This market should be viable without subsidy today, but it has been seriously impeded by the shock rise in business rates – up to 800% for on-site, self-owned, self-consumption [installations] – last April,” said Ms Green. “Deployment figures are very disappointing but sadly no surprise. Solar is not being allowed to operate on a level playing field in the U.K., either in terms of fair tax treatment or market access. In addition, the industry has been waiting a very long time for clarity on the policy framework for smaller, local renewables when the FIT ends early next year. The lack of forward visibility is making it impossible for businesses to plan in an already difficult market.”

Ms Green did concede, however, the U.K. government is giving more attention to PV technology, particularly through demanding higher new build construction standards, helping to stabilise the industry. “More than anything it is a question of providing level playing fields, with some extra care needed to ensure domestic solar remains accessible to lower income homes and social housing,” she added.