UK’s solar sector ‘rebounding from pandemic and subsidy closures’

Ground-mounted arrays accounted for the majority of capacity additions

The figures were released this week in a new announcement from Solar Energy UK and Solar Media. According to these organisations, the UK’s total installed capacity is now 14GW – of which more than 1GW is classed as completely subsidy-free.

The organisations tracked a sharp decline in capacity additions in the second quarter of 2019, following the closure of the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme. Additions then began to pick up in the latter half of 2019 but fell once again in early 2020, with Covid-19 affecting supply chains and investor priorities.

Installations were slightly lower in the first quarter of 2021 than in the last two quarters of 2020 but the report forecasts that they are likely to rise again in the coming months. It outlines how 1GW of new capacity could be installed across the UK this calendar year. A significant growth area is likely to be the public sector, as £140m of the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation fund is estimated to be earmarked for 160MW of rooftop solar on public sector buildings like town halls and hospitals.

Notably, the report breaks down the proportion of installations attributable to the domestic rooftop, private sector rooftop and ground-mounted sub-sectors. The latter took the lion’s share in Q3 2020, Q4 2020 and Q1 2021, with this trend likely to continue.

“The growing pipeline of subsidy-free projects reflects the confidence investors have in solar technology, and the UK can look forward to solar delivering an increasing amount of clean, affordable power,” Solar Energy UK’s chief executive Chris Hewett said.

Corporate commitments

In related news, The Climate Group has announced that its RE100 scheme – designed to help businesses set targets to procure 100% renewable electricity – has reached 300 large business members. Recent sign-ups include Heineken and Epson.

Collectively, RE100 members use 319TWh of electricity annually. This is more than the annual demand of Italy. Many of the firms are aiming for 100% renewables this decade, with 77 having already met 90% of their annual electricity demand with renewables.

The Climate Group revealed that, while corporate social responsibility is the primary driver of renewable electricity adoption, most businesses also see benefits in terms of customer satisfaction, reduced electricity bills and better air quality in the communities in which they operate.

Also assessed were the ways in which businesses source renewable electricity. More than 60% of RE100 members use self-generation to some extent, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are slowly gaining popularity as businesses face pressure to ensure additionality. One-quarter of members had one or more PPAs as of September 2020.

“From this group of pioneers, the membership growth in RE100 is spreading globally, across South America, the Middle East, southern Africa and, most rapidly, in the Asia-Pacific region,” The Climate Group said in a statement.

“Yet whilst there is much to celebrate, companies’ access to renewable electricity varies by region and so, crucially, they are limited in actually delivering on their commitments. From a campaign that began by celebrating the ambition and innovation of corporate leaders – and which has built a demand for renewable electricity amongst its members bigger than that of a G7 country – the work of RE100 is now focused on creating access for renewables in the most challenging markets worldwide.”

Sarah George

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