UK solar deployment halved in 2017 following government’s ‘solar exit’

The UK’s solar installs across 2017 were less than half that of the previous year according to SolarPower Europe’s latest report, which has dubbed the UK “the only rainy” European country in terms of growth to 2022.

The Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2018-2021 found that the UK committed to a ‘solar exit’ in 2016 when the Renewables Obligation was closed to new generating stations up to 5MW, except for those that had qualified for grace periods.

In addition, a revised solar feed-in tariff regime was introduced at the start of 2016 cutting the available tariffs by 65% in some cases, leading to the slowest deployment of domestic solar seen under the scheme.

SolarPower Europe findings suggest this led to just 954MW of solar being installed in 2017, down more than 50% from the 1.97GW installed in 2016, after it had already dropped 52% from 4.1GW in 2015.

This brought the overall performance of the European Union’s solar deployment down, with the UK second only to Italy in the group of 28 in installed capacity by the end of 2017.

Michael Schmela, head of market intelligence at SolarPower Europe, explained: “When looking at the 28 members of the European Union, there is little growth: the EU-28 added 5.91GW in 2017, compared to 5.89GW in 2016.

“This result stems from the UK's 'solar exit' in 2016, which halved new installations in 2017. However, 21 of the 28 EU markets added more solar than the year before.”

This ‘steep downhill trip’ as the report calls it is expected to continue, with the UK expected to add only 2.1GW to 2022 – making it the slowest growing market among the top 20 around the world.

“The UK is the only rainy European country expected to grow only with a 3% compound annual growth rate until 2022,” it states.

While the report acknowledges the emergence of subsidy-free solar projects - namely Anesco’s Clayhill project - as a positive story for the UK, it claims few others have been able to follow “as a level regulatory playing field still needs to be established”.

“Now is the time to make sure we create the right regulatory frameworks for solar and storage, and all relevant technologies and remove barriers to solar growth,” James Watson, chief executive of SolarPower Europe, commented.

However, the report does fail to include details of the considerable solar farms emerging through the planning landscape that will be built without subsidy. If approved in 2020, Hive Energy and Wirsol’s proposed 350MW solar farm would add considerable new capacity, while INRG is also planning its own 120MW site.

Meanwhile, solar continue to grow on a global scale with 99.1GW installed in 2017 and anticipated to exceed the 100GW level in 2018. SolarPower Europe estimates that solar is on course to add another 621.7 GW by 2022.

Christian Westermeier, president of SolarPower Europe, said: "2017 was another historic year for the solar sector. More solar PV capacities were installed globally than any other power generation technology.

“Solar saw more new capacity deployed than traditional energy generation sources combined, and added almost twice as much capacity as wind. Solar is on a winning streak and on its way to become the dominant energy source of the 21st century".