Sun Begins To Shine Again On UK Solar Market

When it comes to renewable energy in the U.K., we’re almost always writing about wind – particularly offshore wind, where the nation is the world leader – and sometimes wave and tidal, sectors in their infancy, to be sure, but ones that are moving ahead in Scotland, in particular.

But there are signs that the U.K. is beginning to emerge from its solar slumber.

Breakdown of new solar installed in the first half of 2013 (image via Solarbuzz)

Breakdown of new solar installed in the first half of 2013 (image via Solarbuzz)

The solar analytics firm Solarbuzz says the U.K. added 802 megawatts of new solar PV in the first half of 2013. That was a new record, but more importantly continued a pattern that has given that country a compound annual solar growth rate of more than 200 percent in the past three years.

In a long analysis of the U.K. solar situation, Solarbuzz vice president Finlay Colville notes that the pace of solar growth in different sectors (residential, small and large commercial rooftop and large-scale ground-mount) has ebbed and flowed according to the changing policies phases, but in general signs are pointing to healthy growth. This might be a surprise on the residential front, particularly, since the general perception of that sector in the U.K. has been dismal since a feed-in tariff scheme boomed and then went bust in 2011. Colville writes:

In reality, even with the downturn in the UK residential segment, during 2013 the UK residential market will be approximately 60% of the U.S. residential market. However, perhaps even more surprising, during 2012 the UK residential market was 10% higher than the U.S., a year in which precious few positive vibes were in evidence within the UK residential PV community.

One typical reaction to the question of solar in the U.K. is to wonder if it makes sense in a place that’s rather famously not very sunny. That’s true to some extent – lower capacity factors have to be acknowledged. But the south of England is pretty similar to Germany as far as sunshine goes, and solar has certainly become a big contributor to the German grid.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.