From zero to hero: explosive solar panel growth means that renewables now produce more power than nuclear in the UK.
UK solar output almost doubled last year in Britain, with solar panels installed on buildings and land unsuitable for farming producing enough energy to power 2.4 million homes. If solar energy continues to grow at the current rate, its output will match the world’s power demand in just eighteen years time.
How much energy do solar panels produce in the UK?
On one record-breaking day in July, the country’s 709,000 solar installations supplied 16% of the UK’s electricity demand.
This is an enormous success for a country that barely had solar panels five years ago. Britain has demonstrated its potential to become a dominate player in the global solar market, providing jobs, a return on investment, and cost-effective electricity at home.
But the competition is fierce. Other countries not traditionally known for their environmentalist thinking have woken up to the possibilities of solar. India and China will each have 100GW installed by 2022.
A solar-powered future for the UK
By making better use of our largest unused rooftops on warehouses, factories and supermarkets, solar power in the UK can exceed even the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s expectations.
An independently verified plan from the solar trade association has solar power providing 7% of the UK’s electricity on a daily basis in 2020, outcompeting fossil fuels on price, and providing 57,000 jobs across solar and solar-related industries. Carrying out this plan would eliminate subsidies for solar panels and cost household’s just £13 each on their energy bills.
And it’s not just the solar trade association that are reading the writing on the wall.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest forecast is that renewable energy will produce more power than coal within fifteen years, and Saudi Arabia’s own oil minister has predicted the end of oil by the middle of the century. Deutsche Bank estimates that the global solar market will be worth $5 trillion by 2035.
Solar panels are getting cheaper and better – having seen a 70% price drop in five years. These improvements combined with improvements in energy storage and the implementation of “smart grids” that respond efficiently to consumer and supplier demands, we could soon be powering our country without polluting it.
Why choose solar power?
Aside from the obvious financial and environmental incentives, there are numerous compelling reasons to invest in a solar future.
The solar industry is much more home-grown than other energy industries. That means when we spend on solar, more of that money stays in the UK than if we spend on nuclear technology or off-shore wind, both of which require more parts, technology or labour to be imported from outside of the country.
Producing energy in the UK would also free our politicians from wrangling with dubious Russian or Middle-Eastern fossil fuel suppliers. It’s very difficult for the UK to condemn Vladimir Putin’s involvement in Crimea, for example, when by purchasing his coal we contribute to the cost of his army.
Then there is the voice of the British people to consider. Solar panels enjoy a greater than 80% public support levels across a number of opinion surveys, making them more popular than the government and much less controversial than nearby nuclear plants, fracking or wind turbines.
According to chief executive Juliet Davenport: “Solar power in the UK is an astonishing success story. Five years ago solar hardly existed in the UK, so it’s amazing to see… over 15% of the UK’s electricity being produced by solar [on the 3rd of July]. The public has really got behind it, it goes hand in hand with farming and biodiversity, and best of all it doesn’t pump carbon into the atmosphere.”