UK puts faith in rooftop solar

The UK government today puts its faith in the commercial-scale rooftop PV sector as it set out a solar strategy that aims to install 1GW on Britain’s state-owned buildings.

The strategy – launched by energy minister and long-time solar ally Greg Barker – explicitly signalled a desire to “move the emphasis for growth away from large solar farms” and instead “target the UK’s estimated 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops”.

Barker said schools, hospitals and defence sites would be enlisted into the drive – which he hopes will be joined by the UK’s private sector – and explicitly made that market, along with the domestic PV sector, the lynchpins of his ambitions.

Barker reiterated his previous view that the UK could install up to 20GW in a decade.

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will consult over plans to extend permitted development rights for rooftop-mounted PV to 1MW, will seek to untangle legal knots such as landlord and tenant issues, and try to ease grid access for commercial-scale systems.

However, there was a potential sting in the tail for the UK’s booming ground-mounted solar sector as DECC said it “is considering the implications of current trends of deployment on the financial incentives available to solar PV under the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in tariff”.

The UK added about 1.45GW of PV capacity in 2013, most of it from ground-mounted arrays, according to market researcher NPD Solarbuzz.

That has been followed by a mad dash in the first quarter of 2014 as developers raced to meet a 1 April subsidy cut.

The strategy document said: “Large-scale ground-mounted solar deployment has been much stronger than anticipated in government modelling.

“This can have impacts on visual amenity, and...also has the potential to affect the financial incentives budget under the Levy Control Framework.

“Given the finite nature of this budget it will be necessary for the government to continue to monitor the overall pipeline of projects against our ambitions for a diverse mix of renewable technologies and achieving value for money for consumers.”