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Last updated: 13 March 2018

The Future of Solar Power in the UK

The future development of solar power in the UK.

Solar Power has been slowly developing in Britain compared with some other European countries. Due to public subsidies and the falling of equipment costs, solar power is becoming a more attractive prospect for the region. New investments in the sector are awaited, as firms are setting up plans to buy solar farms and solar plants.

One of the changes that is stimulating the growth of the sector has been the government decision to lift a 5 MW cap on the size of projects eligible for subsidies via the Feed-in Tariff. Another factor that played a role in the growth of the field is the arrival in recent years of low-cost solar panels from China, which aided in making photovoltaic technology more competitive.

Developing new solar photovoltaic (PV) and related technologies can also further reduce carbon emissions, both by reducing costs and by broadening the range of applications for solar power. Different types of PV panels could be used on building facades, windows and public spaces. Less costly energy storage technologies would allow PV to be used more widely in off-grid situations and for mobile power.

Advances are continuously being done in the associated technologies of installing panels, energy storage and grid integration. These kinds of emerging solar technologies will help to meet emission reduction targets and fulfil the promise of low cost, widespread solar power in the UK.

Read more: Development of Solar Power

Growth in UK’s Renewable Energy Sector

The UK's renewable energy sector is flourishing and much of the gains are being driven by a single technology, specifically solar panels. The region’s solar energy growth compared to previous years is significant, as more investors are turning to this sector with the vision that in the near future it will be the most dependent.

As a result of countries in the European Union setting a target of 20% of energy consumption coming from renewable sources by 2020, the UK government has set up a target as well, of 15% growth. Even though at first glance this may seem like the UK is lagging behind its European neighbors, a report published by the UK government entitled “Section 6- Renewables” shows that the prospects for the sector are improving at a fast pace. As the report states, “solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was the largest contributor to the increase a year earlier, increasing by 1.9 gigawatts [equal to one billion watts], with the majority of this coming from large-scale schemes."

The technological advances in the solar energy sector have made solar panels much more efficient than ever before. This has directly contributed to the falling cost of solar energy up to 50% over the past decade which has led to an increase in the field. But even with the growth of the solar energy sector, the need for cheaper, renewable energy to meet the future demands is still an issue in the present day.

Concern for the Future of Solar Panels in UK

The present increase in the solar energy sector may give insight to a positive future for the technology, however there are also clouds on the horizon, with fears mounting that a move to increasing production by 15% until 2020 would mean covering vast strips of the British countryside in solar panels. This will directly result in raising popular opposition. In fact, some fear will proceed similar to the opposition raised against the wind power sector in the UK.

Solar Plant

Another aspect to analyze is the effect of subsidy reductions in the solar energy field which some critics have claimed is an inconsistent message of support from the coalition government. The issue at hand is the expansion of solar farms in the UK countryside, of which the government is not fond of. This raises concern for the future of the region’s agricultural production, currently the number one manufacturing sector in the United Kingdom.

Solar panel manufacturers have increased over the years, along with the expansion of the solar energy field. There is distress that some manufacturers are “cutting corners” in their panel production, the result being inefficient panels composed of inferior materials. A possible solution which may be implemented in the future by the National Solar Center will be to test the panels in a random fashion straight from the manufacturing production line, which will aid in eliminating the low quality manufacturers.

Due to the fast growing pace of solar energy technology, there is fear that UK’s distribution network will be unable to cope. The energy storage capacity must be developed further if there is to be future success in this industry. Such systems, which are already developed in countries such as Germany and Japan, could be used to store renewable energy during the day and introduce it into the distribution network at needed times.

Read more: Future of Solar Energy