UK’s solo solar woe: the state of play in global solar output – and what it means for Manchester

By Matthew Babic on 22.06.2018

The UK solar industry suffered a 50% reduction in growth for the second year running, according to the new Global Market Outlook published by SolarPowerEurope this week [1]. Solar power is an increasingly cheap, extremely flexible and practically infinite source of renewable energy. Using daylight as a fuel for charging electric batteries, over the last twenty years developments in the technology have led to the emergence of a genuine alternative to fossil fuel power on a national scale.


The measure of a nation’s solar output is necessarily its capacity – the maximum total energy that can be produced by solar cells per annum. The UK has slowed down its development of new capacity over the past two years in response to government cuts to industry subsidies in early 2016 [2].


SolarPowerEurope’s report documents industry progress in 2017 and forecasts future market growth from 2018-2022. There is cause for optimism – global capacity will exceed 1000GW for the first time in 2022 having only passing the 100GW threshold in 2012. There will also likely be emerging markets in Eastern Europe, with Poland and Russia predicted to heavily invest in their solar industries, with a combined output in 2022 roughly 10 times what it is currently. Spain is another nation with huge solar potential, and in absolute terms will be the fourth biggest European developer of new solar capacity by 2022.


Closer to home, however, the story is bleaker.


UK growth dropped below 1GW in 2017, from a figure in 2015 that exceeded 4GW. Perhaps more concerning for the UK industry is the projection for coming years; political suppression of the industry means that it is likely that the UK’s compound annual growth rate is a tiny 3%.


Whilst Elon Musk has come to represent the American sustainability industry’s struggle against short-sighted government [3], the UK solar industry has stumbled following then-Energy Minister Amber Rudd’s announcement 18 months ago. For context, the Trump administration will oversee a 17% annual compound growth despite the Presidential preference for fossil fuels such as coal and heavy solar tariffs [4].


The United States are not the only nation expected to dwarf British growth. European nations will also leave the UK behind in terms of growth, according to the report, which can be found here [5]. Whilst industry leaders Germany will install 20GW of new capacity in that time, along with 11GW and 7.5GW from France and Italy respectively, the UK is predicted to manage just 2.1GW.


In 2017, 21 of the 28 EU member states demonstrated positive growth, though this was offset almost entirely by the regression of British growth – EU growth as a whole grew marginally from 5.89GW in 2016 to 5.91GW in 2017.


At the inaugural Greater Manchester Green Summit in March of this year, Mayor Andy Burnham challenged Mancunians to become 100% carbon neutral by 2040 [6].


If Manchester is to realise Burnham’s vision, a key part of the city’s strategy must deal with the dependence on fossil fuels to power commercial, domestic and industrial buildings. For this, a viable clean energy source is required. The flexibility of the solar cell makes it ideal for installation on almost any building, providing clean, local energy to homes and businesses.


Retrofitting, the process of installing cells on existing buildings, can be a commercially viable and sustainable means of massively reducing CO2 emissions. Information on retrofitting domestic properties can be found at [7], and further information on solar cells and their merits can be found here [8].


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