Back in 2017, Clayhill Solar Farm was the first solar farm to be built without government subsidies. The 10MW site near Flitwick in Bedfordshire was developed by Anesco, a UK-based renewables developer and, crucially, after the Renewables Obligation scheme had been closed to new applicants. The scheme was one of the main support mechanisms for large-scale renewable electricity projects in the UK. Clayhill Solar Farm was a landmark development for the solar industry which paved the way for a sustainable future no longer reliant on subsidies.
According to new figures released by Solar Energy UK 175 MW of new photovoltaic (PV) solar capacity has already been installed across the UK between January and March this year (Q1’21). The UK solar industry is continuing to grow despite the lack of any subsidies.
This brings the UK’s total installed PV capacity to more than 14 GW, generating enough electricity to power over 3 million homes. It is clear that all three solar market segments, residential, commercial rooftop and ground-based have grown despite a drop in installations during the initial Coronavirus pandemic lockdown last year.
The significant growth over the winter period was again dominated by ground-mounted solar parks, contributing 70% of the new capacity deployed. By comparison, rooftop segments are now a much smaller part of a very large industry.
Despite the major government support scheme, the Feed-in-tariff (FiT) for small-scale renewables being removed by the UK government back in early 2019, rooftop markets are also continuing to thrive with rooftop solar capacity seeing 14% year-on-year growth. Last year, however, saw the majority of rooftop solar installations located on commercial and industrial buildings.
More than 1 GW of subsidy free solar PV capacity has been installed since subsidies were withdrawn marking another landmark moment for the industry.
660 MW of new solar capacity was installed in the 12-month period to 31st March 2021, and it looks likely the UK may be on track to deliver an additional GW of unsubsidised solar capacity this year as building, and energy decarbonisation accelerates.
Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged overall deployment over the past year, industry groups and the Solar Media Group believe that market confidence remains clear.
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Finlay Colville, head of analysis at Photo voltaic Media Ltd, said that the “sturdy deployment figures” from the primary quarter of 2021 proved the UK photovoltaic business was now working “effectively and profitably” in a zero-subsidy atmosphere.
“If the industry succeeds in introducing new PV equipment in excess of 1GW without any government incentives, 2021 could still be the most important year for UK solar power.”
And all this could be achieved in the total absence of any incentive schemes.
Though the solar industry is growing without government subsidies, the government has recognised the need for funding in renewables if the UK is to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050. As part of the government’s £1 billion industrial decarbonisation strategy, funding for rooftop solar on public buildings has received an important boost. £932 million has been allocated for the public sector decarbonisation scheme which will see 429 projects around England receive funding. The funding will be used for a number of measures, including rooftop solar, storage and heat pumps. This is happening at the same time as the introduction of stricter energy efficiency regulations for not only new builds but UK households across the board. These regulations will further increase the uptake of solar PV as well as other renewables.
The success of the UK’s subsidy free solar industry could be seen over the Easter weekend when the UK’s electricity system recorded its greenest day ever as sunshine and windy weather led to a surge in renewable energy.
Chris Hewett, CEO of Solar Energy UK, recently said:
“The UK used the cleanest grid electricity ever at Easter Weekend, and solar temporarily provided 21% of its electricity generation. The expansion of the pipeline for unsubsidized projects reflects investors’ confidence in solar technology, and the UK is making solar power increasingly clean and affordable. “
Large scale solar farms are likely to continue to dominate UK solar for the next decade as the pipeline of new site projects is added to each month. During the past year more than 800MW per month on average has been added by way of new sites, with most of these at pre-application stage. The UK subsidy free solar market continues to flourish even in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.