UK installed more solar power than any other european country in 2014
The UK installed more new solar power capacity than any other European country last year and is on track to retain its top-ranking position this year, due to a rush to complete projects ahead of deep cuts to subsidies at the start of this month.
However, the strong performance from the UK comes in the midst of a challenging period for the European solar sector.
Preliminary figures by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) show installation rates across Europe have fallen sharply over the past four years. The analysis, due to be published next month and shared with BusinessGreen, reveals less than 7GW was installed in the bloc in 2014 compared to 21GW in 2011.
The EPIA blames the fall in installation rates on a range of policy challenges, including some governments retroactively cutting subsidies and the introduction of import tariffs on low cost Chinese solar panels.
James Watson, chief executive of EPIA, told BusinessGreen the UK installed more than a third of new European capacity last year, making it the biggest market ahead of traditional solar powerhouses Germany and France.
Estimates show the UK installed 2.5GW last year and has already installed 2GW this year, as solar farm developers rushed to complete projects ahead of subsidy cuts for large solar farms. From 1 April 2015, the government closed the Renewables Obligation (RO) subsidy scheme to ground-mounted solar schemes of 5MW in capacity or larger.
Watson said 2GW had already been installed in the first quarter of this year, and predicted another 1GW could be installed in the remaining nine months of the year under other support measures, such as the feed-in tariff incentive scheme. Some solar farm developers will also still be able to claim the RO through a grace period clause in the policy, while the UK has a growing market for commercial rooftop schemes.
In addition, the industry is divided on whether significant numbers of solar farms can successfully be built under the new contract for difference mechanism for larger renewable energy projects.
“The UK is coming from a low level,” Watson said. “[But] they’re catching up in terms of overall installations. For the time being we expect them to be able to [reach 3GW this year] and we suspect that nobody else in Europe is going to be able to get that number at all.”
He stressed that the figures remain estimates and could change depending on the outcome of the UK election next month.
The news comes as the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF) reportedly announced solar energy had reached cost competitiveness in the country, freeing it from the need for government subsidies. The group said Japan is now one of the world’s four largest markets for solar panels, a position that is likely to be cemented as a host of new large-scale solar farms come online in the next few years.