Solar power in the United Kingdom
Solar power represented a very small part of electricity production in United Kingdom until 2011. The installed base has increased rapidly in recent years as a result of reductions in the cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels, and the introduction of a feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidy in April 2010. As of May 2017, there is a total installed capacity of 12,318 megawatt (MW) of PV solar power, placing the United Kingdom in sixth place internationally in terms of total installed capacity. In 2016 the UK generated 3.07% of its total electricity using solar power. The all-time peak generation from photovoltaics was 9.42GW on 14 May 2018.
|Top-left: solar panels on the BedZED development in the London Borough of Sutton. Bottom-left: residential rooftop solar PV in Wetherby, Leeds. Right: the CIS Tower was clad in building-integrated PV and connected to the grid in 2005.|
In 2012, the government announced that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years, representing 22 GW of installed solar power capacity by 2020. The 72MW(DC) Shotwick Solar Farm is the largest in the United Kingdom.
In 2006, the United Kingdom had installed about 12 MW of photovoltaic capacity and represented only 0.3% of total European solar PV of 3,400 MW. In August 2006 there was widespread news coverage in the United Kingdom of the major high street electrical retailers Currys' decision to stock PV modules, manufactured by Sharp, at a cost of £1,000 per module. The retailer also provided an installation service.
Solar power use increased very rapidly in subsequent years, as a result of reductions in the cost of PV panels, and the introduction of a FIT subsidy in April 2010. The introduction of the feed-in-tariff (FiT) in 2010 saw rapid growth of the UK photovoltaic market, with many thousands of domestic installations along with numerous commercial, community and industrial projects.
The FiT were cut in the fast track review announced by DECC on 9 June 2011. As a result, large arrays of solar photovoltaics became a much less attractive investment opportunity for developers, especially for projects greater than 250 kW, so large field arrays such as these were less likely to be built beyond the 1 August 2011 cut off date, at least not until 2012, when PV prices reduced somewhat - a utility scale solar farm is paid 8.9 p/kWhr generated. The first solar park in Wales became operational in 2011 at Rhosygilwen, north Pembrokeshire. At the end of 2011, there were 230,000 solar power projects in the United Kingdom, with a total installed generating capacity of 750 MW.
On 13 July 2011, construction of the largest solar park in the United Kingdom was completed in Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire. The 4.9 MW free-field system was built in just seven weeks after being granted planning permission. The system generates an estimated 4,860 MW·h of electricity (an average power of 560 kW) into the national grid each year. There are several other examples of 4–5 MW field arrays of photovoltaics in the UK, including the 5 MW Langage Solar Park, the 5 MW Westmill Solar Farm, the 4.51 MW Marsten Solar Farm and Toyota's 4.6 MW plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire.
The first large solar farm in the United Kingdom, a 32 MW solar farm, began construction in November 2012. It is located in Leicestershire, between the runways of the former military airfield, Wymeswold. By February 2012 the installed capacity had reached 1,000 MW. In 2012, the government said that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years. The government expects Britain to have 22 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity by 2020.
At the end of September 2013, retailer Ikea announced that solar panel packages for houses would be sold at 17 United Kingdom stores by July 2014. The decision followed a successful pilot project at the Thurrock Ikea store, during which one photovoltaic (PV) system was sold almost every day. The panels are manufactured by the Chinese company Hanergy. This partnership did not last and in October 2015 Ikea ended its relationship with Hanergy.
As of June 2014 there were 18 schemes generating more than 5 MW and 34 in planning or construction in Wales. By 2016 the total installed capacity was over 10,000 MW. In the summer half-year from April to September 2016, UK solar panels produced more electricity (6,964 GWh) than did coal power (6,342 GWh). Each is about 5% of demand.
The UK's annual insolation is in the range of 750–1,100 kilowatt-hours per square metre (kWh/m²). London receives 0.52 and 4.74 kWh/m² per day in December and July, respectively. While the sunniest parts of the UK receive much less solar radiation than the sunniest parts of Europe, the country's insolation in the south is comparable with that of central European countries, including Germany, which generates about 7% of its electricity from solar power. Additionally, the UK's higher wind speeds cool PV modules, leading to higher efficiencies than could be expected at these levels of insolation.
The Energy Saving Trust that administers government grants for domestic photovoltaic systems, the Low Carbon Building Programme, estimates that an installation for an average-sized house would cost between £5,000–£8,000, with most domestic systems usually between 1.5 and 3 kWp, and yield annual savings between £150 and £200.
The Green Energy for Schools programme will be providing 100 schools across the UK with solar panels. The first school in Wales was the Tavernspite School, near Whitland, which has received panels worth £20,000, sufficient to produce 3,000 kW·h of electricity each year.
Discussion on implementation of a feed-in tariff programme concluded on 26 September 2008, and the results were published in 2009.
The government in the UK agreed in April 2010 to pay for all grid-connected generated electricity at an initial rate of up to 41.3p (US$0.67) per kWh, whether used locally or exported. The rates proved more attractive than necessary, and in August 2011, were drastically reduced for installations over 50 kW, a policy change criticized as marking "the end of the UK’s solar industry as we know it".
Feed In Tariff rates are adjusted annually by the government. As of 8 February 2016, the rate is 4.39 pence per kWh of power generated for domestic systems of 4kWp (p means peak i.e. the maximum power that the system can produce) or less and where homes meet the minimum EPC requirement of band D. The Export Tariff is 4.85 pence per kWh exported to the grid. The amount of electricity exported is not usually measured for domestic installations. It is calculated by assuming that 50% of the electricity produced is exported into the grid.
Derry Newman, chief executive of Solarcentury, argues that the UK's "famously overcast weather does not make it an unsuitable place for solar power, as solar panels work on daylight, not necessarily direct sunlight." Some solar cells work better in direct sunlight, others can use more diffuse light. While insolation rates are lower in England than France and Spain, they are still usable. Many of the solar panels can be monitored on the internet, such as the Slepe Farm in Dorset, a 492 kW solar field.
Net metering is only available from one company, Eastern Energy, where it is referred to as "SolarNet".
Solar power generation totals can only be an estimate due to the nature of each solar site experiencing its own weather, individual siting and angle in relation to the sun etc. Also as the power generated then used by equipment onsite will never reach the grid from all sites the total can never be directly calculated by government statistics as obtained from the national grid. Given this there will still be quite accurate estimates which combine weather reports from around the UK and the simple addition of average generation potential of Solar Panels in the UK in any given year.
The table below shows electricity production from solar panels as a percentage of the final consumption of electricity in the UK and not gross supply to the grid. These numbers may be updated as the UK government has an average time lag of around 6 months in completing the backlog of officially processing the large number of solar installations.
|% of total
- Renewable energy in the United Kingdom
- Renewable energy in Scotland
- Energy use and conservation in the United Kingdom
- Energy policy of the United Kingdom
- Green electricity in the United Kingdom
- Solar power in the European Union
- Renewable energy by country
- United Kingdom National Renewable Energy Action Plan
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