Large-scale solar PV installations in the UK grew by an incredible 600% during 2013, driving the UK to a record 1.45GW of new solar PV capacity added.
Ground-mounted installations accounted for over 90% of new large-scale solar PV added in the UK in 2013.
The UK was ranked in sixth place globally for large-scale solar PV, and is one of just six countries that had, or approached, a GW-level large-scale solar market during 2013.
Figure one: The UK was ranked in sixth place for large-scale solar PV demand in 2013, and was one of only five countries to be ranked in the top 10 for both small and large-scale solar PV demand for 2013
The ranking for large-scale solar PV was the same as the small-scale segment. The UK was one of only five countries to feature in the top-10 rankings for both small-scale and large-scale solar PV deployment in 2013; a fact that should be welcome news to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and UK trade associations in their quest to diversify the UK PV landscape.
Comparative growth reality
The fact that the large-scale segment grew by 600% in 2013 is largely a consequence of 2012 being low and 2013 being high. It also hides the outstanding dilemma for the UK solar PV industry that is the large-scale rooftop segment (better broken out when analysing the UK PV marketplace).
However, comparative data aside, the large-scale ground-mount segment was the key factor in 2013 UK solar PV deployment getting to 1.45GW, well above many of the estimates within the UK at the start of 2013 and also well above many of the estimates from non-UK observers today.
1.45GW in 2013
Tracking the size of the UK market can only be done through a bottom-up phased installation methodology, where all large projects are factored in. Otherwise, market sizing is some way off and is too heavily weighted to small-scale feed-in tariff (FiT) registers downloaded off the internet.
At the end of 2013, cumulative PV in the UK had exceeded the 3GW level, with the 4GW marker set to be reached by 31 March 2014 after what will be a record-breaking quarter for the UK PV industry.
NPD Solarbuzz raises 2014 UK forecast above 2GW
Examining the phasing of the large-scale UK projects within the new NPD Solarbuzz Global Deal Tracker report (released at the end of January 2014), we have upgraded our forecasts for 2014 demand in the UK. Remember that this refers to calendar year 2014 (January to December) and not the fiscal years used by the government (running through to the end of March each year).
Demand in the first quarter of 2014 (Q1’14:January to March) is set to be record breaking (so long as flooding alerts are avoided in March and there are no heavy snow falls). There are three factors driving the record-breaking quarter of Q1’14:
- The ground-mount Renewable Obligation Certificate reset on 1 April 2014, impacting on large-scale ground-mount activity being completed by the end of March.
- The small-scale FiT degressions on 1 April, driving a spike in residential installations in mainland UK.
- Adjustments to the capacity allowances for the Northern Ireland residential segment on 1 April.
This now results in a Q1’14 forecast from NPD Solarbuzz for UK solar PV demand of 950MW, with a calendar year 2014 forecast of 2.2GW. (Exact segmentation details by quarter are currently being finalised by NPD Solarbuzz for the January release of the European PV Markets Quarterly report.)
Ground-mount pipeline now exceeds 5GW
There has been no let-up in the ground-scale aspirations of leading project developers in the UK, providing conclusive proof of the viability of solar PV under 1.4 ROCs/MWh.
Indeed, screening applications across Scotland and Northern Ireland are even under consideration, with over 250MW of projects having been earmarked for large-scale solar farms in these two regions alone in the past 12 months. (The largest installation within these regions remains the 630kW former Jewel and Esk College campus.)
Classifying the official ground-mount pipeline as all projects that have not been completed, we get to just over 5GW of large-scale ground mount in the UK. Note that this includes projects that have been terminated, simply because history informs us from other countries that such sites are often bought by new parties, or resurrected in the future when circumstances/policies/infrastructures change.
However, as shown in Figure 2, the UK ground-mount pipeline is dominated by projects awaiting planning permission (either pre-planning/screening or applied/awaiting-approval), with these two segments adding up to almost 3GW.
Figure two: Including projects terminated/delayed, the UK’s large-scale ground-mount pipeline has reached 5GW, comprised of over 550 projects in excess of 250kW.
The UK ground-mount pipeline continues to grow because the number of projects being planned easily exceeds the number being completed. Indeed, it is likely that the pipeline will exceed 6GW by the end of 2014, with even the ROC revisions on 1 April 2015 seemingly sustaining the hunger of project developers.
Near term outlook
Currently, a host of factors is helping to create an unofficial market cap. Some are global (module supply availability), and some are UK specific (rate of success at the local council level, project developers bandwidth/financial-stability, grid capacity and access, etc.).
However, with ROCs having been implemented originally for the offshore wind industry and a government unlikely to make any further sweeping changes ahead of the May 2015 elections (and potentially with their hands full averting a public backlash following further shale-gas drilling support this week), the PV industry will be shielded somewhat from major political disturbances in 2014 and 2015.
Therefore, while there is no shortage of uncertainty that could offer pessimism to the UK breaking the 2GW demand figure in 2014, for those living in the UK it is hard to remember the last time the country’s energy supply and long-term policies approached a position of stability that were completely risk free.