Solar power in the United Kingdom

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BedZED 2007.jpg CIS Tower.jpg
Solar panels on a 1930s semi on Barleyfields Road, Wetherby (31st May 2013).JPG
Top-left: solar panels on the BedZED development in the London Borough of Sutton. Bottom-left: residential rooftop solar PV in Wetherby, Leeds. Right: the CIS Tower was clad in building-integrated PV and connected to the grid in 2005.

Solar power represented a very small part of electricity production in the United Kingdom until the 2010s when it increased rapidly, thanks to feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidies and the falling cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels.[1]

As of June 2021, installed capacity was over 13.5 gigawatt (GW), with the 72 MW(DC) Shotwick Solar Farm being the largest in the UK.[2][3] Annual generation was slightly under 13 TWh in 2020 (4.1% of UK electricity consumption),[3] and peak generation was less than 10 GW. Solar PV panels have a capacity factor of around 10% in the UK climate. In October 2022, home rooftop solar panels were estimated to pay back their cost in ten to twenty years.[4]

Solar potential[edit]

Solar potential in the UK and on the European continent (different colour scale)

The UK's annual insolation is in the range of 750–1,100 kilowatt-hours per square metre (kWh/m2). London receives 0.52 and 4.74 kWh/m2 per day in December and July, respectively.[5] While the sunniest parts of the UK receive much less solar radiation than the sunniest parts of Europe, the country's insolation in the south is comparable with that of central European countries, including Germany, which generates about 7% of its electricity from solar power.[6] Additionally, the UK's higher wind speeds cool PV modules, leading to higher efficiencies than could be expected at these levels of insolation.[7] The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assumes an average capacity factor of 9.7% for solar photovoltaics in the UK.[8]

Derry Newman, chief executive of Solarcentury, argues that the UK's "famously overcast weather does not make it an unsuitable place for solar power, as solar panels work on daylight, not necessarily direct sunlight."[9] Some solar cells work better in direct sunlight, others can use more diffuse light. While insolation rates are lower in England than France and Spain, they are still usable.[10]

Solar PV installed capacity and generation[edit]

Year end 2008[11] 2009[11] 2010[11][12] 2011[3] 2012[13][14] 2013[14][3] 2014[3] 2015[3] 2016[3] 2017[15][3] 2018[15][3] 2019[15][3] 2020[15][3] 2021[15][3]
22 27 95 965 1,736 2,822 5,378 9,118 11,562 12,690 12,992 13,265 13,477[a] 13,776
17 20 33 244 1,354 2,010 4,054 7,533 10,395 11,457 12,736 12,918 12,801[b]
Effective Capacity factor [c] 0.087 0.084 0.039 0.028 0.088 0.081 0.086 0.094 0.102 0.103 0.111 0.111 0.108
% of total
electricity consumption
<0.01 <0.01 0.01 0.07 0.37 0.64 1.2 2.2 3.1 3.4 3.8 4.0 4.1
Solar PV deployment in the UK. Capacity in megawatt (MWp)
Source: DECC – Department of Energy & Climate Change, Statistics – Solar photovoltaics deployment (period from 2010 onward)[15]

The table above shows electricity production from solar panels as a percentage of the final consumption of electricity in the UK and not gross supply to the grid. These numbers may be updated as the UK government has an average time lag of around 6 months in completing the backlog of officially processing the large number of solar installations.

  1. ^ New Solar PV capacity slowed in 2020, though to a lesser extent, with 217 MW being added in 2020 compared with 273 MW in 2019. Although uncertain, Covid-19 restrictions may have caused delays in some projects.[15]
  2. ^ Despite an additional 0.2 GW in solar pv capacity (up by 1.6 per cent) generation decreased by 0.1 TWh (8.1 per cent) due to fewer hours of sunlight.[3]
  3. ^ 0.108 here means 10.8% for example. For more information on calculations see Capacity Factor


PV capacity in watts per capita by region in 2013[13]
  0–1 watt
  1–10 watts
  10–50 watts
  50–100 watts
  100–200 watts
  200–350 watts

In 2006, the United Kingdom had installed about 12 MW of photovoltaic capacity,[16] which represented only 0.3% of total European solar PV of 3,400 MW.[17] In August 2006, there was widespread news coverage in the United Kingdom of the major high street electrical retailers Currys' decision to stock PV modules, manufactured by Sharp, at a cost of £1,000 per module. The retailer also provided an installation service.

Solar power installations increased rapidly in subsequent years, as a result of reductions in the cost of PV panels, and the introduction of a feed-in-tariff (FiT) subsidy in April 2010.[1]

FiT payments for new installations were cut a review announced by DECC on 9 June 2011.[18] As a result, large arrays of solar panels became a less attractive investment opportunity for developers, especially for projects greater than 250 kW, so large field arrays such as these were less likely to be built beyond the 1 August 2011 cut-off date.[19] At the end of 2011, there were 230,000 solar power projects in the UK,[1] with a total installed generating capacity of 750 MW.[20]

In 2012, the government announced that 4 million homes across the UK would be powered by the sun within eight years,[21] representing 22 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity by 2020.[1] At the end of September 2013, retailer IKEA announced that solar panel packages for houses would be sold at 17 UK stores by July 2014. The decision followed a successful pilot project at their Thurrock store, during which one system was sold almost every day. The panels were manufactured by the Chinese company Hanergy.[22] This partnership did not last and in October 2015 Ikea ended its relationship with Hanergy.[23]

Colliery behind a solar farm in North Yorkshire in 2017

By 2016 the total installed capacity was over 10,000 MW. In the summer half-year from April to September 2016, UK solar panels produced more electricity (6,964 GWh) than did coal power (6,342 GWh); each meeting about 5% of demand.[24]

UK solar PV installed capacity at the end of 2017 was 12.8 GW, representing a 3.4% share of total electricity generation.[15] Provisionally, as of the end of January 2019 there was 13,123 MW installed UK solar capacity across 979,983 installations. This is an increase of 323 MW in slightly more than a year.[25] A new record peak generation from photovoltaics was set at 9.68 GW on 20 April 2020.[26]

New solar PV installations slowed in 2020, though to a lesser extent, with 217 MW being added in 2020 compared with 273 MW in 2019. COVID-19 restrictions may have caused delays in some projects.[15]

Solar PV by size of installations[edit]

Cumulative installed capacity[27]
Size July 2018 (MW)
0 to < 4 kW 2,567.9
4 to < 10 kW 224.7
10 to < 50 kW 786.8
50 kW to < 5 MW 3,468.5
5 to < 25 MW 4,310.9
> 25 MW 1,512.4
Total 12,871.2
Pre 2009 estimate
(for comparison)

Residential solar PV[edit]

According to a report on behalf of the European Commission, in 2015 the United Kingdom had 2,499 MW of residential solar PV capacity, with 775,000 residential solar PV producers, representing 2.7% of households.[28] The average size of residential solar PV systems was estimated to be 3.25 kW, and the technical potential for residential solar PV in the United Kingdom was estimated at 41,636 MW.[28]

MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) claim 61,320 UK properties had solar panels installed in 2021, an increase of 71% on the previous year.[29] The average payback time for residential solar PV in the UK was 11.4 years as of 2015,[28] but subsequent increases in the price of domestic energy have significantly decreased this. The April 2022 rise in the price cap saw payback times reduced on average by 2.5 years.[30]

Some of the advantages of small scale residential solar include eliminating the need for extra land, keeping cost saving advantages in local communities and empowering households to become producer/consumers of renewable electricity, raising awareness of wasteful consumption habits and environmental issues through direct experience. It will take anything from 4 to 20 years to recoup the money spent on solar panels, this depends on a number of factors for example how many modules you have, how big they are, if they are south facing and where you live. Some studies have found that feed in tariff schemes have disproportionately benefited wealthier households with little or no assistance to help poorer household access financial loans or affordable schemes, whilst the costs of schemes are distributed evenly across utility bills.

In his Spring Statement of March 2022, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a reduction of VAT on the installation of energy-saving materials (including solar PV systems) to 0% (previously 5%) for a period of five years from 1 April 2022, stating "the measure is intended to incentivise the take-up of ESMs in line with the government’s net zero objectives".[31]

Large scale solar power parks[edit]

Name MW County Location Status
Llanwern Solar farm 75 Newport Operational from 2021
Shotwick solar farm 72 Flintshire Operational from 2016
Cleve Hill Solar Park 350 Kent Approved, construction starting summer 2022[32]
Amlwch / Llyn Alaw 350 Anglesey Proposed[33]

The first solar park in Wales became operational in 2011 at Rhosygilwen, north Pembrokeshire.[34]

On 13 July 2011, construction of the largest solar park in the United Kingdom was completed in Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire. The 4.9 MW free-field system was built in just seven weeks after being granted planning permission. The system generates an estimated 4,860 MWh of electricity (an average power of 560 kW) into the national grid each year.[35] There are several other examples of 4–5 MW field arrays of photovoltaics in the UK, including the 5 MW Language Solar Park, the 5 MW Westmill Solar Farm, the 4.51 MW Marsten Solar Farm and Toyota's 4.6 MW plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire.[36]

The first large solar farm in the United Kingdom, a 32 MW solar farm, began construction in November 2012 in Leicestershire, between the runways of the former military airfield, Wymeswold.[37]

As of June 2014 there were 18 schemes generating more than 5 MW and 34 in planning or construction in Wales.[38]

Planning considerations[edit]

Adding solar panels to the external elevations and roofs of a dwelling will change the appearance of both the property and the local street view. This in some cases will require planning permission from the local authority. For a Listed Building or in a Conservation Area, planning permission is mandatory. Otherwise, the owner of a domestic dwelling where solar panels are being installed can in most cases proceed under their Permitted Development rights, as long as certain height limitations are adhered to.

Government programmes[edit]

The Energy Saving Trust that administers government grants for domestic photovoltaic systems, the Low Carbon Building Programme, estimates that an installation for an average-sized house would cost between £5,000–£8,000, with most domestic systems usually between 1.5 and 3 kWp, and yield annual savings between £150 and £200 (in 2008).[39]

The Green Energy for Schools programme was intended to provide 100 schools across the UK with solar panels. The first school in Wales was at Tavernspite, in Pembrokeshire, and received panels worth £20,000.[40]

The average UK home consumes about 3,000 kWh of electricity per year, equivalent to about 1 ton of CO2 per home (dependent on electricity industry energy mix). That equates to 25 million tons of CO2 per year from UK domestic electricity consumption. As of September 2019, there is no compulsion for new builds to incorporate any solar power generation.

Feed-in tariff[edit]

Discussion on implementation of a feed-in tariff programme concluded on 26 September 2008, and the results were published in 2009.[41] The UK government agreed in April 2010 to pay for all grid-connected generated electricity at an initial rate of up to 41.3 pence (US$0.67) per kWh, whether used locally or exported.[42] The rates proved more attractive than necessary, and in August 2011, were drastically reduced for installations over 50 kW,[43] a policy change criticised as marking "the end of the UK's solar industry as we know it".[44] Subsequently, feed-in tariff rates were adjusted annually by the government,[45] and a requirement was introduced for new claims that the home's rating on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) had to be 'D' or better.[46] The amount of electricity exported is not usually measured for domestic installations; instead it is calculated by assuming that 50% of the electricity produced is exported into the grid.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a consultation on 19 July 2018, stating their intention to close the FIT scheme to new applicants from 1 April 2019[47] and not replace it with a new subsidy.[48]

The Feed-in Tariff was closed to new entries on 1 April 2019, but households are still able to claim on existing tariffs where available.

Smart Export Guarantee[edit]

On 10 June 2019, Ofgem announced[49] that BEIS had introduced the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), in force from 1 January 2020. This is not a direct replacement of the feed-in tariff scheme, but rather a new initiative that rewards solar generators for electricity exported to the grid. Energy suppliers with more than 150,000 domestic customers must provide at least one export tariff.[50] The export tariff rate must be greater than zero. Export is measured by smart meters which the energy supplier will install free of charge.

The SEG is available to households that generate up to 5kW from solar PV, wind, micro-combined heat and power, hydro or anaerobic digestion.[51]

Contract for Difference[edit]

The Contract for Difference (CfD) scheme, introduced in 2013 to replace the Renewables Obligation, excluded solar PV schemes from the competitive auctions in 2015. The majority of successful CfD auction bidders came from the wind sector. In 2020 the UK government reversed this decision, opening the door for PV projects to compete in the CfD auctions against onshore wind projects.[52]


Decentralised smaller scale generators which are not connected directly to the transmission network are forecast to increase.[53] New solar farms and battery storage may help to meet increased demand from electric vehicles.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Yeganeh Torbati (9 February 2012). "UK wants sustained cuts to solar panel tariffs". Reuters.
  2. ^ Foresight Solar Fund snaps up 72-MWp solar park, UK's largest, RenewablesNow, 3 February 2017
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Energy Trends: UK renewables". Department of Energy & Climate Change. June 2021. p. Renewable electricity capacity and generation (ET 6.1 – quarterly). Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Are solar panels worth it?". Architectural Digest. 11 October 2022. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  5. ^ "UK and Ireland Annual Insolation Map". 2007.
  6. ^ "Snapshot of Global PV 1992–2014" (PDF). International Energy Agency – Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme. 30 March 2015. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015.
  7. ^ "Solar Cell Efficiency".
  8. ^ Hemingway, James (December 2013). "Estimating generation from Feed in Tariff installations" (PDF). Energy Trends. Department of Energy & Climate Change: 2.
  9. ^ "UK's biggest solar energy farm connects to national grid". The Guardian. 27 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Colored Solar Panels Don't Need Direct Sunlight". 18 September 2009.
  11. ^ a b c "ENERGY TRENDS – Table 5: Capacity of, and electricity generated from, renewable sources from 2008 to 2010" (PDF). Department of Energy and Climate Change. June 2011. p. 27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  12. ^ EUROBSER'VER. "Photovoltaic Barometer – installations 2010 and 2011" (PDF). p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014–2018" (PDF). EPIA – European Photovoltaic Industry Association. p. 24. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  14. ^ a b "ENERGY TRENDS – Table 6.1. Renewable electricity capacity and generation" (PDF). Department of Energy & Climate Change. March 2014. p. 50. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (27 May 2021) [29 May 2014]. Solar photovoltaics deployment April 2021 (Report). Retrieved 21 June 2021. {{cite report}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  16. ^ Observ'ER. "Observ'ER – l'observatoire des énergies renouvelables" (PDF).
  17. ^ "Solar Photovoltaics". Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  18. ^ "Fast-track review of Feed-in Tariffs". GOV.UK.
  19. ^ "Tariffs payable per kWh of electricity produced – FI Tariffs – Feed-In Tariffs".
  20. ^ European Photovoltaic Industry Association (2012). "Market Report 2011".[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Fiona Harvey (9 February 2012). "Greg Barker: 4m homes will be solar-powered by 2020". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Ikea to sell solar panels in UK. stores". The Guardian. Reuters. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  23. ^ "Ikea ends residential solar panel deal with Hanergy". Financial Times. 2 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Analysis: UK solar beats coal over half a year". Carbon Brief. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  25. ^ />
  26. ^ "PV Live Sheffield University". Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  27. ^ "UK Solar & PV Market Report 2019". UK Business Energy. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  28. ^ a b c "Residential prosumers in the European energy union" (PDF).
  29. ^ "Annual UK solar PV installations hit output milestone". MCS. 21 March 2022. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  30. ^ "Solar panels pay for themselves 2.5 years faster following price cap rise". MakeMyHouseGreen Blog. May 2022. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  31. ^ "The Value Added Tax (Installation of Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2022". GOV.UK. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  32. ^ . Cleve Hill Solar Park Retrieved 16 May 2022. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. ^ "Mega solar sites planned over thousands of acres of land on Anglesey". June 2021. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  34. ^ "Wales' first solar park powers up in Pembrokeshire". BBC. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  35. ^ "Conergy completes record-breaking UK solar park". Solar Power Portal. 13 July 2011.
  36. ^ Hughes, Emma (3 August 2011). "Just how many solar projects beat the fast track review?". Solar Power Portal. Semiconductor Media, Ltd. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  37. ^ "Construction Begins on Britain's Largest Solar Plant".
  38. ^ "Solar parks: Large scale schemes 'to double' in Wales". BBC. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  39. ^ "Grants and Loans". Archived from the original on 11 October 2008.
  40. ^ "Free solar power first for school". BBC News. 19 May 2008..
  41. ^ "UK Renewable Energy Strategy Consultation". Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
  42. ^ "Feed-in Tariff scheme". Energy Saving Trust. 1 April 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  43. ^ Nichols, Will (1 August 2011). "Curtain falls on solar subsidy boom". BusinessGreen. Incisive Media Investments Limited. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  44. ^ Hughes, Emma (1 August 2011). "The end of large-scale solar as we know it". Solar Power Portal. Semiconductor Media, Ltd. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  45. ^ "Feed-In Tariff (FIT) rates".
  46. ^[bare URL PDF]
  47. ^ "Feed-in Tariffs (FIT)". Ofgem.
  48. ^ Jardine, Chris (8 August 2018). "Renewable Energy News – July 2018".
  49. ^ "Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)". Ofgem.
  50. ^ "The future for small-scale low-carbon generation: part A". GOV.UK.
  51. ^ "Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)". Ofgem. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  52. ^ "Solar Power Portal BEIS backs down on CfDs as it allows solar back in the scheme".
  53. ^ "Future Energy Scenarios in five minutes" (PDF). National Grid. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  54. ^ "Battery storage and solar farms to power 100 UK 'Electric Forecourts'". edie. 29 March 2019.

External links[edit]