Are these cloud-covered islands Europe’s biggest solar power market?
Surprisingly for some, the UK’s solar power market has grown exponentially in recent years. A look at why.
The last time I was in the UK it was cloudy and it rained. There’s nothing unusual about that. It seems to be cloudy and wet most days I am there. That is one of its many charms.
But when I mention to friends and family that the UK is one of the biggest producers of solar power in the world, few believe me. Solar power and the UK do not go together in most people’s minds.
The reason for this, I suppose, is that people outside the industry associate solar power with hot sunny climates. Their presumptions are, of course, correct, but only partly so. Photovoltaic (PV) modules can still produce energy from light on cloudy days. Not quite as efficiently as in sunny Spain or California, but enough to make solar power commercially viable.
In the past few years the UK has grown its solar power market exponentially, and in 2014 installed more solar power generation capacity than any other European country. More than even Germany, which has topped this particular ranking for the past 18 consecutive years.
In fact, earlier this year the UK became the sixth country in the world to have more than five gigawatts (GW) of cumulative installed PV capacity. Only Germany, China, Japan, Italy and the United States – in that order – have more.
Why the UK?
So how come this reputedly cloud-covered, rainy country has become one of the biggest solar power markets in the world?
The answer in short is the government’s target to have 20 GW of installed capacity by 2020. This has been supported by incentives and dependable feed-in tariffs to make PV solar power even more attractive to the market.
As for me, my frequent travels to the UK are due to ABB’s deep involvement in this booming solar market. My latest project is providing our industry-renowned transformation centers for two utility-scale PV power plants in southern England. The centers convert the direct current generated by the solar field into alternating current and feed it, safely and reliably, into the grid for consumption by homes and businesses.
Together these two plants will produce enough electricity from renewable sources to go around the world more than 2,800 times with a Tesla Model S, every year.
Even with this contribution, the UK’s target of 20 GW by 2020 remains an ambitious one, but one that points to a promising future for PV solar power. Today, solar technology is so well-developed that even countries that had reduced their share in the solar market are now returning to it. Grid parity is no longer a dream but is well on its way to becoming a reality.
And the UK’s supply of rain offers another positive for PV power plants: It washes the dust and grime off the panels and reduces cleaning costs.