UK enters global PV top six with record-breaking half year – part two

Within the second part of this new two-part feature on the UK solar PV industry, Vice-President of NPD Solarbuzz, Finlay Colville, reviews the detailed breakdown of the 802MW of new PV capacity added in the UK during the first half of 2013 (1H 2013). This includes segmentation by geography and installation size/type (residential, non-residential, large and small commercial and different size categories for ground-mount installations).

South and East regions remain project developers priority

Looking at the geographic split between the solar PV capacity installed in the UK during 1H 2013, it should not come as any great surprise that over 50% falls within the two Southern regions (South West and South East). This is shown clearly in Figure one. While historically Cornwall was the focus of installs in the South West, more capacity was installed in Devon during 1H 2013 than any other county within the UK. Major contributions within the South come also from Hampshire and Somerset.

Figure 1

Figure one: During 1H 2013, more than half of the 802MW installed in the UK was located in the South West and South East regions. The South and East categories dominated MW levels of UK solar PV.

As developers have shifted away from Cornwall and the South West, more capacity is being installed in the Eastern regions (East Midlands and East of England). Within Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, over 65MW of large-scale ground-mount was installed during 1H 2013. In the East of England region, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk each installed over 20MW of large-scale ground-mount capacity also.

However, despite the dominance of the South and East categories, there is significantly more activity now across a broader range of counties further north. Looking at the NPD Solarbuzz project pipeline of large-scale projects, once the South, East and West categories are removed, there is well over 50MW of large-scale ground-mount projects being planned in the North (West and East), Yorkshire and Humberside, Scotland and Ireland. This includes a 20MW project as far north as Peterhead.

Currently, the largest (most northerly) ground-mount PV installation is the solar farm at the former Esk & Jewell College campus just outside Dalkeith, as photographed on 27 April 2013 and shown in Figure two. This installation, equipped with Astronergy modules and Power-One inverters, is particularly notable given the absence of solar PV within the renewable energy roadmap being strongly advocated by the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

Figure 2

Figure two: The solar park at Dalkeith in Scotland is the largest ground-mount solar PV installation in the north of the UK. Image source: Finlay Colville, 27 April 2013.

Large-scale increasing for ground-mount, declining for rooftop

Perhaps the most insightful analysis on the 802MW of 1H 2013 UK PV installs is to segment the MW capacity across the different site groupings. This involves segmenting by residential and non-residential, and then further splitting the non-residential to small and large rooftops, and to different size categories for ground-mount installations.

The rooftop split is set here at 100kW between the small and large non-residential installations and the ground-mount segment is divided into <5 MW projects, 5-10 MW and >10 MW. The full 802MW 1H 2013 breakdown is shown in Figure three.

Figure 3

Figure three: More than half of the 802 MW installed in 1H’13 was from projects >5 MW, highlighting the scope of ROC deployment for large-scale PV above 5 MW. The large rooftop segment (> 100 kW) remains challenged, with neither FITs nor rooftop ROCs providing adequate returns.

The impact of the ROCs in 1H 2013 can be seen clearly in the dominant share of MW capacity assigned to ground-mount projects above 5 MW, contrasting with the previous ground-mount growth phase in the UK that capped the FiT incentives at this level. Indeed, the contribution from the >10MW sites could also be inferred as a strong sign of things to come if ROCs (and CfD levels) continue to offer sufficient incentives for project developers.

The other takeaway from Figure three is the reduced contribution from the large rooftop segment (here defined as >100 kW). This is a direct impact of the FiT/ROC transition phase that left the large rooftop segment uneconomic through FiTs and marginally effective on the new rooftop ROC tariff. This segment clearly requires changes in legislation to prevent this category being the sole domain of well-capitalised multi-national firms that can bankroll a small handful of MW-scale rooftop PV projects.

Summary

The UK has now emerged as a leading solar PV candidate within a high-growth global energy segment. The 802MW of new solar PV installed during 1H 2013 has elevated the UK to the sixth largest country in the world for new solar PV capacity, with strong deployment forecast for 2H 2013 also.

While year-on-year growth remains aggressive, continued adjustments within government policies are essential to sustain the domestic sector against the backdrop of a highly dynamic global PV industry, including recent trade cases that have changed the supply landscape considerably.

Today however, the UK PV industry currently has one of the most constructive government/trade-association/project-developer working partnerships seen globally.

This provides strong confidence that any short-term issues can be overcome successfully to create a viable (albeit challenging) roadmap for all industry participants. Reaching the unofficial 20-GW-by-2020 target remains dependent on this cross-party alliance holding rank and creating suitable framework policies within which the broader domestic PV industry can operate with confidence.

Finlay Colville will be speaking at this year’s Solar Energy UK. His speech, ‘The analyst’s perspective: market insight, pricing and regulatory impact for large-scale in the UK’ will take place in the Solar Business Seminar Hall on Tuesday 8 October. Tickets can be booked here.