PV to compete with gas by 2025: UK

The UK government believes that by 2020 large-scale solar will in most cases be cost-competitive with onshore wind, and significantly cheaper than offshore wind.

In releasing a new report today on the PV sector's progress the Department of Energy and Climate Change stood by its controversial position that the UK could have 20GW of PV in place by 2020, up from about 2.5GW today.

The government's previously announced "central" energy forecast for 2020 predicted 10.7GW of PV by 2020. That compares to an 18GW prediction for offshore wind.

But, speaking today, energy minister Greg Barker said: “I believe [the PV industry] can go faster and further.”

“I think that up to 20GW of deployed solar is not only desirable but also potentially achievable within a decade,” Barker says.

The report, titled Roadmap to a Brighter Future, notes that the global solar industry is going through a period of “hyper-change”, with the government acknowledging that recent polls have found PV to be the most popular source of renewable energy in Britain.

The report – a precursor to a full government "Solar PV Strategy" to be published next spring – says that the cost of large-scale PV on a levelised basis is already cheaper than offshore wind in Britain, although more expensive than onshore wind.

That picture will change quickly, however, with large PV to be competitive with onshore wind in some cases in a few years' time – and in most cases by 2020.

If the predicted rate of cost reduction for large PV continues into the 2020s, PV will be competitive with gas by 2025, the report claims.

Small-scale PV is – and will remain – more expensive than most other generation technologies. However, the owners of small systems – typically installed on the rooftops of homes – have different expectations for the return on their investment than the owners of large power plants, meaning their cost may not be as much of an impediment to growth.

The roadmap heavily emphasises that PV must be “sensitively sited” and take its impact on the power grid into consideration for growth to continue.

The boom of ground-mount PV arrays across southern England has caused some isolated instances of friction with local communities. Although unlikely to reach the fever pitch of controversy that wind projects stirred up some areas, objectionism is likely to become a growing problem for PV developers as the sector expands.

The government also points out that considerable uncertainty still hangs over the sector, in areas ranging from trade conflicts to the pace of future technological advancement.

“The level of cost reduction that is feasible to achieve grid parity is still very uncertain, particularly in areas with modest solar radiation like the UK,” the report says.

The UK's base of installed PV capacity has grown 25-fold since the beginning of 2011 – from 94MW then to more than 2.4GW by this summer.