Solar power in the United Kingdom

Last updated
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 feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidies and [1] the falling cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels.

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 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.

Electricity sector in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a National Grid that covers most of mainland Great Britain and several of the surrounding islands, as well as some connectivity to other countries. As of 2017 the electricity sector in the United Kingdom generation uses around 50% fossil fuelled power, roughly 20% nuclear power and 30% renewable power. Renewable power is showing strong growth, while fossil fuel generator use in general and coal use in particular is shrinking, with coal generators now mainly being run in winter due to pollution and costs.

A feed-in tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies. It achieves this by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers, typically based on the cost of generation of each technology. Rather than pay an equal amount for energy, however generated, technologies such as wind power and solar PV, for instance, are awarded a lower per-kWh price, while technologies such as tidal power are offered a higher price, reflecting costs that are higher at the moment and allowing a government to encourage development of one technology over another.

Contents

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.

Capacity factor unitless ratio of an actual electrical energy output over a given period of time to the maximum possible electrical energy output over the same amount of time

The net capacity factor is the unitless ratio of an actual electrical energy output over a given period of time to the maximum possible electrical energy output over that period. The capacity factor is defined for any electricity producing installation, such as a fuel consuming power plant or one using renewable energy, such as wind or the sun. The average capacity factor can also be defined for any class of such installations, and can be used to compare different types of electricity production.

Climate of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom straddles the higher mid-latitudes between 49° and 61° N on the western seaboard of Europe. Since the UK is always in or close to the path of the polar front jet stream, frequent changes in pressure and unsettled weather are typical. Many types of weather can be experienced in a single day. In general the climate of the UK is cool and often cloudy, and high temperatures are infrequent.

Solar potential

SolarGIS-Solar-map-United-Kingdom-en.png
SolarGIS-Solar-map-Europe-en.png
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]

Solar power in Germany

Solar power in Germany consists almost exclusively of photovoltaics (PV) and accounted for an estimated 6.2 to 6.9 percent of the country's net-electricity generation in 2016. 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.

Department of Energy and Climate Change United Kingdom government ministerial department

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was a British government department created on 3 October 2008, by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take over some of the functions related to energy of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and those relating to climate change of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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]

Solarcentury is the UK's largest solar company. Solarcentury was founded in 1998 by former oil geologist Jeremy Leggett, and had an annual turnover of £168 million in 2015-16.

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]
Capacity [17]
(MW)
2227959651,7362,8225,3789,11811,56212,77613,098
Generation
(GW·h)
1720332591,3282,0154,0507,56110,29211,52512,922
Effective Capacity factor0.0880.0850.0400.0310.0870.0820.0860.0950.1010.1030.113
% of total
electricity consumption
<0.01<0.010.010.070.370.641.332.493.13.43.9
Solar PV deployment in the UK. Capacity in megawatt (MWp)
2,500
5,000
7,500
10,000
12,500
15,000
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
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.

History

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 energy in the European Union

Solar energy in the European Union consists of photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal energy.

Currys British electrical retailer operating in the UK and Republic of Ireland

Currys is a British electrical retailer operating in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, owned by Dixons Carphone. It specialises in selling home electronics and household appliances, with 295 megastores and 73 high street shops. Smaller shops also trade under the Currys Digital brand in the United Kingdom, which was introduced to rebrand all former Dixons shops in April 2006.

Sharp Corporation is a Japanese-Taiwanese multinational corporation that designs and manufactures electronic products, headquartered in Sakai-ku, Sakai. Since 2016 it has been a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Foxconn Group. Sharp employs more than 50,000 people worldwide. The company was founded in September 1912 in Tokyo and takes its name from one of its founder's first inventions, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil, which was invented by Tokuji Hayakawa in 1915.

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 < 4kW2,567,9
4 to < 10kW224.7
10 to < 50kW786.8
50kW to < 5MW3,468.5
5 to < 25MW4,310.9
> 25MW1,512.4
Pre 2009 estimate14.6
TOTAL12,885.9

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 3.25kW 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.

Storage

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]

Many of the solar panels can be monitored on the internet, such as the Slepe Farm in Dorset, a 492 kW solar field. [36]

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). [37]

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. [38]

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. [39]

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. [40] The rates proved more attractive than necessary, and in August 2011, were drastically reduced for installations over 50 kW, [41] a policy change criticized as marking "the end of the UK’s solar industry as we know it". [42]

Feed In Tariff rates are adjusted annually by the government. [43] 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. [44] 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 [45] and will not be replaced by a new subsidy. [46]

On 10 June 2019, Ofgem announced [47] 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 [48] . 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". [49]

Future

Decentralised smaller scale generators which are not connected directly to the transmission network are forecast to increase. [50] New solar farms and battery storage may help to meet increased demand from electric vehicles. [51]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Solar power by country

Many nations 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 June 2019, Australia's over 2.15 million solar PV installations had a combined capacity of 12,959 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 3,819 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.

Building-integrated photovoltaics photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades. They are increasingly being incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power, although existing buildings may be retrofitted with similar technology. The advantage of integrated photovoltaics over more common non-integrated systems is that the initial cost can be offset by reducing the amount spent on building materials and labor that would normally be used to construct the part of the building that the BIPV modules replace. These advantages make BIPV one of the fastest growing segments of the photovoltaic industry.

Solar power in Spain

Spain was one of the first countries to deploy large scale solar photovoltaics and as of 2018 the first country for concentrated solar power (CSP) in the world. In 2018, the cumulative total solar power installed was 7,011 MW, of which 4,707 MW were solar PV installations and 2,300 MW were concentrated solar power. In 2016, nearly 8 TWh of electrical power was produced from photovoltaics, and 5 TWh from CSP plants. During 2016 Photovoltaics accounted for 3% of total electricity generation and solar thermal an additional 1.9%.

Solar power in India is a fast developing industry. The country's solar installed capacity reached 30.709 GW as of 31 August 2019. India has the lowest capital cost per MW globally to install the solar power plants.

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

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.

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

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).

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.

Photovoltaic power station Large-scale photovoltaic system

A photovoltaic power station, also known as a solar park, is a large-scale photovoltaic system designed for the supply of merchant power into the electricity grid. They are differentiated from most building-mounted and other decentralised solar power applications because they supply power at the utility level, rather than to a local user or users. They are sometimes also referred to as solar farms or solar ranches, especially when sited in agricultural areas. The generic expression utility-scale solar is sometimes used to describe this type of project.

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 France

Solar power in France including overseas territories reached an installed capacity figure of 9,466 MW by the end of 2018 generating 10,196 GWh of power.

Solar power in Indiana

Solar power in Indiana has been growing in recent years due to new technological improvements and a variety of regulatory actions and financial incentives, particularly a 30% federal tax credit for any size project.

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