Demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in the United Kingdom (UK) grew significantly to reach 520MW in the first quarter of 2013, driven by a strong push from large-scale ground-mount PV projects completed during March 2013. Cumulative PV demand in the UK has now exceeded 2.5GW, with 93% of this demand having being realised in the past two years, according to the latest bottom-up analysis derived from the NPD Solarbuzz UK deal-tracker database that now includes over 1,400 non-residential PV projects.

The UK PV industry is currently benefiting from a stable funding mechanism for both residential and non-residential segments through solar-specific feed-in tariff (FiT) and Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) incentives, with known degression criteria and timeline. Furthermore, the local PV industry associations are seeing strong support and engagement with Greg Barker, the energy and climate change minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This is providing increased confidence for project developers to expand large-scale ground-mount pipelines for deployment to the end of 2013 and beyond, accessing ground-mount and building-mount ROC rates.

By the end of Q1 2013, the share of large-scale projects had increased significantly to account for 25% of cumulative PV demand in the UK, with ground-mount PV installations providing over 50% of UK PV demand in the 12-month period ending 31 March 2013.

By accessing ROCs as the de facto route for large-scale PV deployment, ground-mount projects in excess of 5MW are now increasing in quantity, with the 34MW Wymeswold installation in Leicestershire completed in Q1 2013 now the largest PV site in the UK. The large building-mount segment is also seeing increased attention under the rooftop ROC incentives, with the 7MW Bentley Motors installation in Crewe in Q1 2013 confirming the viability of project economics for this segment, in the absence of FiT-based alternatives.

During Q1 2013 alone, more than 30 large-scale PV solar farms in excess of 5MW were constructed in the UK, with the south-west region accounting for over 50%. Currently, there are more than 35 large-scale PV projects in excess of 10MW at the planning stages across various local councils in the UK with a cumulative PV pipeline in excess of 550MW.

Tracking solar in the UK

With solar PV demand in the UK now coming from both FiT and ROC incentivised schemes, accurately tracking solar PV deployment in the UK has become increasingly dependent on bottom-up project-specific market analysis. Previously, the time lag from PV project build-out to official registration for legacy FiT-based projects was known. With ROC-based projects, an additional timing issue has now been introduced in overall market size calculations.

Announcements directly from Greg Barker at DECC are now providing enhanced clarity on the growth of the UK PV market. On 18 April 2013, Barker tweeted that cumulative PV demand was approaching the 2.5GW level. On 25 April at the Large-Scale UK Solar conference in Truro, Barker announced during his keynote presentation that over 400MW of solar PV had been installed specifically under the ROC scheme. These announcements are fully aligned with the NPD Solarbuzz bottom-up analysis of the UK PV market size and confirm the level of PV deployment seen in the UK over the past two years under both the FiT and ROC schemes.

While the well-defined incentive mechanisms under FiT and ROC are offering confidence to the downstream PV channels in the UK, there are currently several risk factors that are directly impacting on forecasted PV deployment levels over the next 12-18 months. These include the EU/China trade case, the pending government energy market reform within the UK and the exact details to be included in the forthcoming UK Solar PV Strategy document.

While these issues may be overshadowing day-to-day UK PV business, it does not detract from the fact that Q1 2013 was a record quarter for UK PV demand and the first time the UK has exceeded 0.5GW of PV demand in a single three-month period.