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Solar power in the United Kingdom


Solar power in the United Kingdom

Solar panels on the BedZED development in the London Borough of Sutton

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 megawatts (MW).[2] By February 2012 the installed capacity had reached 1,000 MW.[3] Solar power use has increased very rapidly in recent years, albeit from a small base, 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.[1] In 2012, the government said that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years,[4] representing 22,000 MW of installed solar power capacity by 2020.[1]


  • Solar resource 1
  • History 2
  • PV commercialisation 3
  • Government programmes 4
    • Feed-in tariff 4.1
    • Net metering 4.2
  • Statistics 5
    • PV installations by region 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Solar resource

Solar potential in the United Kingdom
Solar potential in Europe
European average kWh produced per year for an optimally latitude-tilted fixed photovoltaic kW(peak) array[5]

The UK's insolation is less than 120 W(th)/m²[6] (2.9 kW·h/m²/day, or 1050 kW·h/m²/year) which is less than parts of the globe at lower lattitudes. The sunniest parts of the UK receive just over half as much insolation as the sunniest parts of Europe. The insolation in the south of the country however is comparable with that of much of Germany, which is by far the biggest market for photovoltaics in the world with a quarter of all installed capacity, as of 2013. Additionally, the higher wind speeds that can be found in the UK can cool PV modules, leading to higher efficiencies than could be expected at these levels of insolation.[7] The DECC model assumes an average load factor of 9.7% for solar photovoltaics in the UK.[8]

A 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi), 200,000 MWp solar farm in Scotland, where the insolation is about 900 kWh/m²/yr would provide 180,000 GWh/yr, equal to all of Scotland's energy demand. Since most of that would be in the summer, when Scotland receives 12–14 hours of sun, the excess would need to be stored or exported, and wind, hydro-electric, nuclear and carbon based energy would need to be used in the winter. About 47% of energy in Scotland is used for heat, and can be substantially reduced by increasing insulation of buildings.[9]


In 2006, the United Kingdom had installed 12.5 MWp of photovoltaic capacity[10] represented 0.3% of the European total of 3.4GWp.[11] By 2011 this had increased to 750 MWp, with 700 of that installed in 2011.[12]

Due to an EU agreement to generate 15% of electricity from renewables by 2020, in June 2008 a new programme to encourage homeowners to generate their own electricity was announced, which will include a feed-in tariff.

PV commercialisation

The CIS Tower, Manchester, England, was clad in 575.5 kW of PV panels at a cost of £5.5 million. It started feeding electricity to the national grid in November 2005.

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 provides an installation service.

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. 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 just in seven weeks after being granted planning permission. The system will generate an estimated 4,860 MW·h of electricity (an average power of 560 kW) into the national grid each year.[13] There are several other examples of 4–5 MW field arrays of photovoltaics in the UK, including the 5MW 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.[14] The cuts to the feed in tariff made in the fast track review announced by DECC on 9 June 2011[15] mean that large arrays of solar photovoltaics are now a much less attractive investment opportunity for developers (especially for projects greater than 250 kW), so large field arrays such as these are unlikely to be built beyond the 1 August 2011 cut off date, at least not until 2012, when PV prices reduce somewhat - a utility scale solar farm is paid 8.9 p/kWhr generated.[16]

  • Sharp Solar, has a facility in Llay near Wrexham.[17]
  • G42i is building (2007) the world's first commercial scale dye sensitized TiO2 module plant.
  • Solar Century offers BIPV modules to fit with standard UK concrete tiles.

The first solar park in Wales came on stream in 2011 at Rhosygilwen, near Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire.[18] As of June 2014 there were 18 schemes generating more than 5 MW and 34 in planning or construction.[19]

Solar power use has increased very rapidly in recent years, albeit from a small base, 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.[1] 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 megawatts (MW).[2] By February 2012 the installed capacity had reached 1,000 MW.[3] In 2012, the government said that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years.[4] The government expects Britain to have 22 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity by 2020.[1]

The first large solar farm in the United Kingdom, a 32 MW solar farm, began construction in November 2012. It is located in Leicestershire, and is expected to be completed before April 2013, when the feed in tariff for large systems will be reduced. It is located between the runways of the former military airfield, Wymeswold.[20]

At the end of September 2013, IKEA announced that solar panel packages for houses will be sold at 17 United Kingdom IKEA stores by the end of July 2014. The decision followed a successful pilot project at the Lakeside IKEA store, whereby one photovoltaic (PV) system was sold almost every day. The panels are manufactured by a Chinese company named Hanergy Holding Group Ltd.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

Feed-in tariff

Discussion on implementation of a feed-in tariff programme concluded on 26 September 2008, and the results were published in 2009.[24] One story used the language "They will be able to sell back surplus electricity at premium prices to the national grid.",[25] which is not a feed-in tariff, it is simply a means of reconciling any surplus from a net metering programme. The key word is "surplus", not the word "sell". Net metering only requires the existing home electric meter, while a feed in tariff requires installation of a separate meter to measure generation. Australia has been criticised for implementing a similar programme, paying A$0.60 (about £0.28) for each kWh over what is used each month, with Environment Victoria Campaigns Director Mark Wakeham calling it a "fake feed-in tariff".[26] The current FIT is a compromise - for systems less than 4 kW all electricity generated is purchased by the electric company for 16p/kWh and then sold back to the consumer for free, who can in turn sell back any electricity not consumed at 3.1p/kWh. This requires two meters. A far simpler system is to eliminate the FIT, allow full net metering, and buy any net electricity not consumed each year at the same rate it is sold. As of March 2012 suppliers are advertising an 8% to 10% return on your investment, and a break even point of 8 to 12 years.[27][28]

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 kW·h, whether used locally or exported.[29] The rates proved more attractive than necessary, and in August 2011, were drastically reduced for installations over 50 kW,[30] a policy change criticized as marking "the end of the UK’s solar industry as we know it".[31]

fossil fuels with carbon-free sources of energy, opposes subsidies for solar power within the UK, "because the facts show unequivocally that this is a terrible investment."[32] On the other hand, 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."[33] 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.[34] Many of the solar panels can be monitored on the internet, such as the Slepe Farm in Dorset, a 492 kW solar field.[35]

Net metering

Net metering is only available from one company, Eastern Energy, where it is referred to as "SolarNet".[36]


Domestic solar pannels on a house in Wetherby, West Yorkshire.

Solar power numbers can only be an estimate due to the nature of how home or business owned power operates within grid system in the UK. Essentially the power generated then used by equipment onsite will never reach the grid so can never be directly calculated by government statistics. Given this there will still be indirect estimates possible both in terms of the lowering of demand from the grid, a phenomena well seen in Australia for example, or by estimating how much electric is used by UK homes on average. There are few if any studies or estimates on the use of home or business generated electricity by either solar or wind so as to give an indication of the real generation of such technologies. Any reader of this who knows of such would be welcome to add to this entry to further understanding of the real generation potential of solar technology in the UK.

Year end 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Capacity (MW) 22 27 77 1,014 1,829 3,375
Generation (GW·h) 17 20 33 259 1,328 2,015
% of total electricity consumption <0.001 <0.001 0.001 0.07 0.37 0.64
References [37] [37] [37][38] [38][39] [40][41] [40][41]
PV capacity [MWp]

PV installations by region

PV capacity in watts per capita by region in 2013[42]
  0 - 1 watt
  1 - 10 watts
  10 - 50 watts
  50 - 100 watts
  100 - 200 watts
  200 - 350 watts
  350 - 500 watts
  500 - 750 watts
  >750 watts
Photovoltaics (MW)[43]
Region 2010 2011
East Midlands 5 44
East of England 7 53
Greater London 3 11
North East 1 13
North West 3 32
Northern Ireland 0 0
Scotland 2 42
South East 12 78
South West 12 91
Wales 3 30
West Midlands 4 33
Yorkshire and the Humber 8 50
Data does not include unattributed locations

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Yeganeh Torbati (Feb 9, 2012). "UK wants sustained cuts to solar panel tariffs". Reuters. 
  2. ^ a b European Photovoltaic Industry Association (2012). "Market Report 2011". 
  3. ^ a b Jonathan Gifford (23 February 2012). "UK hits one GW of PV capacity". PV Magazine. 
  4. ^ a b Fiona Harvey (9 February 2012). "Greg Barker: 4m homes will be solar-powered by 2020". 
  5. ^ Šúri M., Huld T.A., Dunlop E.D. Ossenbrink H.A., 2007. Potential of solar electricity generation in the European Union member states and candidate countries. Solar Energy, 81, 1295–1305, [1]
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Solar Cell Efficiency
  8. ^ Hemingway, James (December 2013). "Estimating generation from Feed in Tariff installations" (pdf). Energy Trends. Department of Energy & Climate Change. p. 2. 
  9. ^ Solar energy in Scotland
  10. ^ Eurobserv'er'
  11. ^ Solar Photovoltaics
  12. ^ Report 1011
  13. ^ "Conergy completes record-breaking UK solar park". Solar Power Portal. 13 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Hughes, Emma (3 August 2011). "Just how many solar projects beat the fast track review?". Solar Power Portal. Semiconductor Media, Ltd. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Feed in Tariff Fast Track Review". 
  16. ^ Table of Feed In Tariffs
  17. ^ Sharp Solar celebrates five years as world number one
  18. ^ "Wales' first solar park powers up in Pembrokeshire". BBC. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  19. ^ "Solar parks: Large scale schemes 'to double' in Wales". BBC. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  20. ^ Construction Begins on Britain’s Largest Solar Plant
  21. ^ Reuters (30 September 2013). "Ikea to sell solar panels in UK stores". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  22. ^ Solar Electricity, Energy Saving Trust
  23. ^ Free solar power first for school
  24. ^ UK Renewable Energy Strategy Consultation
  25. ^ Home-made energy to prop up grid
  26. ^ Solar feed-in tariff meets with mixed reviews
  27. ^ Feed-in Tariff
  28. ^ Feed-In Tariffs
  29. ^ "Feed-in Tariff scheme". Energy Saving Trust. 1 April 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  30. ^ Nichols, Will (1 August 2011). "Curtain falls on solar subsidy boom". BusinessGreen. Incisive Media Investments Limited. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  31. ^ Hughes, Emma (1 August 2011). "The end of large-scale solar as we know it". Solar Power Portal. Semiconductor Media, Ltd. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  32. ^  
  33. ^ "UK's biggest solar energy farm connects to national grid.". The Guardian. 27 June 2011. 
  34. ^ Colored Solar Panels Don’t Need Direct Sunlight
  35. ^ Slepe Farm
  36. ^ SolarNet and Net Metering
  37. ^ a b c "ENERGY TRENDS - Table 5: Capacity of, and electricity generated from, renewable sources from 2008 to 2010" (PDF). Department of Energy and Climate Change. June 2011. p. 27. Archived from the original on 18 June 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  38. ^ a b EUROBSER'VER. "Photovoltaic Barometer - installations 2010 and 2011" (PDF). p. 6. Archived from the original on 16 June 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  39. ^ EUROBSER'VER. "Photovoltaic Barometer - installations 2011 and 2012" (PDF). p. 7. Archived from the original on 16 June 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  40. ^ a b "Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018" (PDF). EPIA - European Photovoltaic Industry Association. p. 24. Archived from the original on 12 June 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  41. ^ a b "ENERGY TRENDS - Table 6.1. Renewable electricity capacity and generation". Department of Energy & Climate Change. March 2014. p. 50. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  42. ^ "Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018". EPIA - European Photovoltaic Industry Association. p. 24. Archived from the original on 12 June 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  43. ^ Global Market Outlook 2016 pg. 71

External links

  • UK's First Solar Plant Gets Go-ahead: A disused tin mine is set to host the UK's first solar panel park after winning approval from Cornwall Council.
  • Energy statistics from DECC
  • Feed-in Tariff Installation Report
  • A history of UK solar photovoltaics - Solar Panels Infographic
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