Solar jobs in the UK could number nearly 20,000 by 2021, according to EY. Image: Sungift.

The UK’s solar market is set for a rebound in the coming years but will lose ground to the rest of Europe as a result of government policy decisions, leading consultancy EY has concluded.

The findings have been announced within a new report on solar jobs and economic value throughout Europe, compiled by EY in collaboration with trade body SolarPower Europe.

The report has charted the substantial growth in UK solar jobs from just 149 in 2008 to more than 17,000 in 2016, forecasting them to hit nearly 20,000 (19,976) by 2021. That would account for the UK holding roughly 11% of total jobs in solar within Europe.

Meanwhile the UK is expected to once again become a multi-gigawatt market for deployed solar in the 2020s, installing roughly 1.5GW per year with a forecasted capacity of 17.25GW by the end of 2021.

That level of employment and deployment would enable the UK’s domestic solar industry to add more than €1 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the economy, having added just €10 million in 2008.

However, forecasts by EY show significantly slower growth in the UK compared to its European counterparts.

While UK solar’s GVA is forecast to climb by around 12.7% between 2016 and 2021, major European economies such as Germany (45.3%), France (243.2%), Italy (126.2%) and the Netherlands (131%) are all expected to grow at significantly greater rates.

Indeed, while in 2016 EY places the UK’s solar industry as Europe’s second largest by GVA, by 2021 it will be fourth, ceding its place to France and Italy.

EY attributed this comparatively sluggish growth in the UK to a near future left “complicated” by uncertainties concerning investments, lending and power prices. It said the uncertainties result from the removal or reduction in government support mechanisms, with the looming Brexit negotiations also casting doubt over the UK’s standing.

Since the premature closing of the Renewables Obligation and significant reduction in support under the feed-in tariff, both enacted in the aftermath of the Conservatives’ majority election victory in May 2015, deployment has slowed and thousands of solar workers are considered to have either left the industry or lost their jobs altogether.

Last year a report conducted by the Solar Trade Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers found that UK solar employment effectively halved in the year following the FiT cuts.

Chris Hewett, policy manager at the STA, said the new figures highlighted the “damaging impact of policy uncertainty” solar has endured in recent years.

“…to reach the levels of economic activity in 2020 assumed in this report will need a clearer policy framework. The government likes to portray solar as a British success story, which it has been, but the reality is the rest of Europe is now stealing a march on the UK.

“We agree with SolarPower Europe that the UK solar industry can reach the levels of deployment, suggested in this report, of nearly 17GW installed capacity by 2020, so the opportunity for generating profits and jobs across the country is there for the taking. 

“However, unless government stops sitting on its hands and starts removing the barriers to market, like allowing solar into the CfD auctions or providing fair treatment for solar rooftop in business rates, these benefits will not be realised,” he said.

Solar Power Portal put EY’s findings to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“This report predicts a bright future for the UK Solar industry. We want to see more people investing in solar and, as costs continue to fall, we expect there to be more opportunities to harness the power of storage technologies.

“We continue to support small scale solar projects through the Feed in Tariff scheme and will set out future support for the industry in due course,” a BEIS spokesperson said.