Solar power in the United Kingdom

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BedZED 2007.jpg CIS Tower.jpg
Solar panels on a 1930s semi on Barleyfields Road, Wetherby (31st May 2013).JPG
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.

Solar power represented a very small part of electricity production in the United Kingdom (UK) until the 2010s when it increased rapidly, thanks to feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidies and [1] the falling cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels.


As of 2019 installed capacity was over 13 gigawatt (GW), with the 72MW(DC) Shotwick Solar Farm being the largest in the UK. [2] Annual generation was slightly under 13 TWh in 2018, somewhat under 4% of UK electricity consumption. Peak generation was less than 10GW. Solar PV panels have a capacity factor of around 10% in the UK climate.

Solar potential

Solar potential in the UK and on the European continent (different colour scale)

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. [3] 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. [4] Additionally, the UK's higher wind speeds cool PV modules, leading to higher efficiencies than could be expected at these levels of insolation. [5] The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assumes an average capacity factor of 9.7% for solar photovoltaics in the UK. [6]

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." [7] 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. [8]

Solar PV installed capacity and generation

Year end2008 [9] 2009 [9] 2010 [9] [10] 2011 [10] [11] 2012 [12] [13] 2013 [13] 2014 [14] 2015 [15] 2016 [15] 2017 [16] 2018 [16] 2019 [16]
Capacity [17]
Effective Capacity factor0.0880.0850.0400.0310.0870.0820.0860.0950.1010.1030.1130.108
% of total
electricity consumption
Solar PV deployment in the UK. Capacity in megawatt (MWp)
Source: DECC – Department of Energy & Climate Change, Statistics – Solar photovoltaics deployment (period from 2010 onward) [17]

The table above 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.


PV capacity in watts per capita by region in 2013
0-1 watt
1-10 watts
10-50 watts
50-100 watts
100-200 watts
200-350 watts Watts per capita UK.svg
PV capacity in watts per capita by region in 2013
  0–1 watt
  1–10 watts
  10–50 watts
  50–100 watts
  100–200 watts
  200–350 watts

In 2006, the United Kingdom had installed about 12 MW of photovoltaic capacity [18] and represented only 0.3% of total European solar PV of 3,400 MW. [19] 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. [1] 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. [20] 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. [21] At the end of 2011, there were 230,000 solar power projects in the United Kingdom, [1] with a total installed generating capacity of 750 MW. [22]

In 2012, the government announced that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years, [23] representing 22 gigawatt (GW) of installed solar power capacity by 2020. [1] 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. [24] This partnership did not last and in October 2015 Ikea ended its relationship with Hanergy. [25]

Colliery behind a solar farm in North Yorkshire in 2017 Alternative power (geograph 5647191).jpg
Colliery behind a solar farm in North Yorkshire in 2017

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. [26]

UK solar PV installed capacity at the end of 2017 was 12.8 GW, representing a 3.4% share of total electricity generation. [16] Provisionally, as of the end of January 2019 there was a total of 13,123 MW installed UK solar capacity across 979,983 installations. This is an increase of 323 MW in slightly more than a year. [27] The all-time peak generation from photovoltaics was 9.55 GW on 14 May 2019. [28]

Solar PV by size of installations

Cumulative installed capacity [29]
SizeJuly 2018 (MW)
0 to < 4 kW2,567,9
4 to < 10 kW224.7
10 to < 50 kW786.8
50 kW to < 5MW3,468.5
5 to < 25MW4,310.9
> 25MW1,512.4
Pre 2009 estimate14.6

Residential solar PV

According to a report on behalf of the European Commission the United Kingdom had 2,499 MW of residential solar PV capacity with 775,000 residential solar PV prosumers in the country representing 2.7% of households as of 2015. [30] The average size of residential solar PV systems is estimated to be 3.25 kW moving to 2030. The technical potential for residential solar PV in the United Kingdom is estimated at 41,636 MW. [30] The average payback time for residential Solar PV in the United Kingdom is 11.4 years as of 2015. [30]

Some of the advantages of small scale residential Solar include eliminating the need for extra land, keeping cost saving advantages in local communities and empowering households to become prosumers of renewable electricity and thus raising awareness of wasteful consumption habits and environmental issues through direct experience. It will take anything from 4 to 20 years to recoup the money spent on solar panels, this depends on a number of factors for example how many modules you have, how big they are, if they are south facing and where you live. Some studies have found that feed in tariff schemes have disproportionately benefited wealthier households with little or no assistance to help poorer household access financial loans or affordable schemes, whilst the costs of schemes are distributed evenly across utility bills.


Examples of popular domestic battery storage in the UK include Tesla Powerwall, Sonnen Battery and Powervault.[ citation needed ]

Large scale solar power parks

Name MW CountyLocationOperational from
Shotwick solar farm72Flintshire2016

The first solar park in Wales became operational in 2011 at Rhosygilwen, north Pembrokeshire. [31]

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. [32] There are several other examples of 4–5 MW field arrays of photovoltaics in the UK, including the 5 MW Language 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. [33]

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. [34]

As of June 2014 there were 18 schemes generating more than 5 MW and 34 in planning or construction in Wales. [35]

Planning considerations

The adding of Solar Panels to the external elevations and roofs of a dwelling will change the appearance of both the property and local street view. This in some cases will require Planning Permission from the Local Authority. A Listed Building or Conservation Area, Planning Permission is mandatory. A domestic dwelling outside of the constraints of Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas where Solar Panels are being installed, then the home owner can in most cases, as long as certain height limitations are adhered too, can proceed under their Permitted Development rights.

Government programmes

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 (in 2008). [36]

The Green Energy for Schools programme will be providing 100 schools across the UK with solar panels. The first school in Wales was at Tavernspite, in Pembrokeshire, which has received panels worth £20,000, sufficient to produce 3,000 kW·h of electricity each year. [37]

The average UK home consumes about 3000 kWh of electricity per year, equivalent to about 1 ton of CO2 per home (clearly dependent on electricity industry energy mix). That equates to 25 million tons of CO2 per year from UK domestic electricity consumption. At this time (Sep 2019) there is no compulsion for new builds to incorporate any solar power (or wind where feasible).

Feed-in tariff

Discussion on implementation of a feed-in tariff programme concluded on 26 September 2008, and the results were published in 2009. [38]

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. [39] The rates proved more attractive than necessary, and in August 2011, were drastically reduced for installations over 50 kW, [40] a policy change criticized as marking "the end of the UK’s solar industry as we know it". [41]

Feed In Tariff rates are adjusted annually by the government. [42] 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. [43] 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.

The Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a consultation on 19 July 2018. In this, they state their intention to close the Feed-in Tariff scheme to new applicants from 1 April 2019 [44] and will not be replaced by a new subsidy. [45]

On 10 June 2019, Ofgem announced [46] BEIS have introduced the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). The SEG will be in force from 1 January 2020. This is not a direct replacement of the feed-in tariff scheme, but rather a new initiative that will reward solar generators for electricity exported to the grid. Energy suppliers with more than 150,000 domestic customers will be obligated to provide at least one export tariff. [47] The export tariff rate must be greater than zero. Export will be measured by smart meters which the energy supplier will install free of charge.

Net metering

Net metering is only available from one company, Eastern Energy, where it is referred to as "SolarNet". [48]


Decentralised smaller scale generators which are not connected directly to the transmission network are forecast to increase. [49] New solar farms and battery storage may help to meet increased demand from electric vehicles. [50]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Solar power by country

Many countries and territories have installed significant solar power capacity into their electrical grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources. Solar power plants use one of two technologies:

Solar power in Australia

Solar power in Australia is a fast growing industry. As of September 2019, Australia's over 2.2 million solar PV installations had a combined capacity of 13,904 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 3,290 MW were installed in the preceding 12 months. In 2019, 59 solar PV projects with a combined capacity of 2,881 MW were either under construction, constructed or due to start construction having reached financial closure. Solar accounted for 5.2% of Australia's total electrical energy production in 2018.

Solar power in India Solar power

Solar power in India is a fast developing industry. The country's solar installed capacity reached 37.627 GW as of 31 March 2020. India has the lowest capital cost per MW globally to install solar power plants.

Solar power in Germany

Solar power in Germany consists almost exclusively of photovoltaics (PV) and accounted for an estimated 8.2 percent of the country's gross-electricity generation in 2019. About 1.5 million photovoltaic systems were installed around the country in 2014, ranging from small rooftop systems, to medium commercial and large utility-scale solar parks. Germany's largest solar farms are located in Meuro, Neuhardenberg, and Templin with capacities over 100 MW.

Financial incentives for photovoltaics are incentives offered to electricity consumers to install and operate solar-electric generating systems, also known as photovoltaics (PV).

A feed-in tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Their goal is to offer cost-based compensation to renewable energy producers, providing price certainty and long-term contracts that help finance renewable energy investments. Typically, FITs award different prices to different sources of renewable energy in order to encourage development of one technology over another. For example, technologies such as wind power and solar PV, are awarded a higher price perkWh than tidal power. FITs often include a "degression", a gradual decrease of the price or tariff, in order to follow and encourage technological cost reductions.

Solar power conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity

Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), indirectly using concentrated solar power, or a combination. Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and solar tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into an electric current using the photovoltaic effect.

Feed-in electricity tariffs (FiT) were introduced in Germany to encourage the use of new energy technologies such as wind power, biomass, hydropower, geothermal power and solar photovoltaics. Feed-in tariffs are a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by providing them remuneration above the retail or wholesale rates of electricity. The mechanism provides long-term security to renewable energy producers, typically based on the cost of generation of each technology. Technologies such as wind power, for instance, are awarded a lower per-kWh price, while technologies such as solar PV and tidal power are offered a higher price, reflecting higher costs.

Solar power in the United States

Solar power in the United States includes utility-scale solar power plants as well as local distributed generation, mostly from rooftop photovoltaics. As of the end of 2017, the United States had over 50 gigawatts (GW) of installed photovoltaic capacity. In 2018, utility scale solar power generated 66.6 terawatt-hours (TWh), 1.66% of total U.S. electricity. During the same time period total solar generation, including estimated small scale photovoltaic generation, was 96.1 TWh, 2.30% of total U.S. electricity. In terms of total cumulative installed capacity, by year end 2017 the United States ranked 2nd in the world behind China. In 2016, 39% of all new electricity generation capacity in the country came from solar, more than any other source and ahead of natural gas (29%). By 2015, solar employment had overtaken oil and gas as well as coal employment in the United States. In 2016, more than 260,000 Americans were employed in the solar industry.

Photovoltaic system power system designed to supply usable solar power

A photovoltaic system, also PV system or solar power system, is a power system designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics. It consists of an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to convert the output from direct to alternating current, as well as mounting, cabling, and other electrical accessories to set up a working system. It may also use a solar tracking system to improve the system's overall performance and include an integrated battery solution, as prices for storage devices are expected to decline. Strictly speaking, a solar array only encompasses the ensemble of solar panels, the visible part of the PV system, and does not include all the other hardware, often summarized as balance of system (BOS). As PV systems convert light directly into electricity, they are not to be confused with other solar technologies, such as concentrated solar power or solar thermal, used for heating and cooling.

Feed-in tariffs in Australia

Feed-in tariffs in Australia are the feed-in tariffs (FITs) paid under various State schemes to non-commercial producers of electricity generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) systems using solar panels. They are a way of subsidising and encouraging uptake of renewable energy and in Australia have been enacted at the State level, in conjunction with a federal mandatory renewable energy target.

Solar power in Canada Solar power potential in Canada

Historically, the main applications of solar energy technologies in Canada have been non-electric active solar system applications for space heating, water heating and drying crops and lumber. In 2001, there were more than 12,000 residential solar water heating systems and 300 commercial/ industrial solar hot water systems in use. These systems presently comprise a small fraction of Canada’s energy use, but some government studies suggest they could make up as much as five per cent of the country’s energy needs by the year 2025.

Solar power in Japan

Solar power in Japan has been expanding since the late 1990s. The country is a leading manufacturer of photovoltaics (PV) and a large installer of domestic PV systems with most of them grid connected. Japan has an insolation of about 4.3 to 4.8 kWh/(m2·day).

Growth of photovoltaics Worldwide growth of photovoltaics. History, current status and forecast.

Worldwide growth of photovoltaics has been close to exponential between 1992 and 2018. During this period of time, photovoltaics (PV), also known as solar PV, evolved from a niche market of small scale applications to a mainstream electricity source.

Solar power in Turkey Heat and electrical energy from the sun in the Eurasian country

Turkey is located in an advantageous position in the Middle East and Southeast Europe for solar energy. Solar potential is very high in Turkey, especially in the South Eastern Anatolia and Mediterranean provinces. Compared to the rest of the region, insolation values are higher and conditions for solar power generation are comparable to Spain. 7.5 TWh was generated in 2018 which was 2.5% of Turkey's electricity. Installed capacity was 5GW, with the Energy Ministry planning to have another 10GW installed in the 2020s. However solar power in Turkey could increase far more quickly if subsidies for coal were abolished and the auction system was improved.

Feed-in tariffs in the United Kingdom were announced in October 2008 and took effect from April 2010. They were entered into law by the Energy Act of 2008. It closed to new applicants on March 31, 2019.

Solar power in Italy

During the first decade of the new Millennium Italy was the third country after Germany and Spain to experience an unprecedented boom in solar installations after actively promoting solar power through government incentives. In July 2005 the country launched its first "Conto Energia" programme supporting the development of renewable power. Growth in solar installations picked up immediately but it was the years 2009-2013 that saw a boom in installed photovoltaic (PV) nameplate capacity, increasing nearly 15-fold, and 2012's year-end capacity of over 16 GW ranked second in the world after Germany, ahead of the other leading contenders, China, Japan and the United States at that time.

Solar power in Austria

As of the end of 2014, solar power in Austria amounted to 766 megawatt (MW) of cumulative photovoltaic (PV) capacity, of which more than three quarters were installed within the last four years. Solar PV generated 766 gigawatt-hours, or about 1.4% of the country's final electricity consumption. As with most other European countries, 99.5 percent of all solar power systems are connected to the electrical grid. The nation's installed PV capacity by inhabitant stood at 91 watts, still below the European Union's 2014-average of 172 watts.

Solar power in Denmark

Solar power in Denmark contributes to a goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2050. The goal of 200 MW of photovoltaics by 2020 was reached eight years early, in 2012, and 36 MW was being installed each month. Denmark had 790 MW in late 2015. A total of 3,400 MW is expected to be installed by 2030. Many solar-thermal district heating plants exist and are planned in Denmark.


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