Solar power in the United Kingdom
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 the falling cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels.
|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.|
As of 2019 installed capacity was over 13 gigawatt (GW), with the 72MW(DC) Shotwick Solar Farm being the largest in the UK. 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.
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 Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assumes an average capacity factor of 9.7% for solar photovoltaics in the UK.
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.
Solar PV installed capacity and generation
|Effective Capacity factor||0.088||0.085||0.040||0.031||0.087||0.082||0.086||0.095||0.101||0.103||0.113|
|% of total
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.
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. 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.
In 2012, the government announced that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years, representing 22 gigawatt (GW) 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.
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.
UK solar PV installed capacity at the end of 2017 was 12.8 GW, representing a 3.4% share of total electricity generation. 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. The all-time peak generation from photovoltaics was 9.55 GW on 14 May 2019.
Solar PV by size of installations
|Size||July 2018 (MW)|
|0 to < 4kW||2,567,9|
|4 to < 10kW||224.7|
|10 to < 50kW||786.8|
|50kW to < 5MW||3,468.5|
|5 to < 25MW||4,310.9|
|Pre 2009 estimate||14.6|
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. 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. The average payback time for residential Solar PV in the United Kingdom is 11.4 years as of 2015.
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.
Large scale solar power parks
|Shotwick solar farm||72||Flintshire||2016|
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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 and will not be replaced by a new subsidy.
On 10 June 2019, Ofgem announced 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. 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.
Decentralised smaller scale generators which are not connected directly to the transmission network are forecast to increase. New solar farms and battery storage may help to meet increased demand from electric vehicles.
- 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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- About the FIT scheme
- FiT changes on the way
- Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)
- The future for small-scale low-carbon generation: part A
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