An Aussie guide to solar PV in the UK

You may think that it rains too much in the land of Poms for solar PV to be effective but the UK has a pretty vibrant industry across both commercial and domestic sectors. Whilst Australia’s biggest solar plant, which will comprise nearly a million panels when finished, recently went online, the UK have been making their own developments, if on a slightly less ambitious scale.

As a smaller country, the UK has different needs. Australia has vast tracts of open land that can be used for solar PV development but in Great Britain that land is scarcer and there have been recent concerns over the use of valuable arable resources for solar power plants or farms.

How Solar PV Works in the UK

As with Australia, there are some great incentives to get both homeowners and businesses involved in the solar PV market. The government backed Feed in Tariff operates in a similar way in the UK with those who have solar installed benefiting from selling their energy production back to the National Grid. This gives the chance to make a substantial return on investment as well as reduce electricity bills.

Solar power has become a big industry in the UK with a huge rise in installers over the last ten to fifteen years, some offering free panels in exchange for the rights to the Feed in Tariff payments. There are various other incentives given to the UK population which are all designed to promote the uptake of green technologies such as heat pumps and biofuels.

To install solar PV on a domestic or commercial property you don’t usually need to have planning permission though it is always best to check with the local council beforehand. The average cost has come down in recent years too, from around £10,000 ($19,653) to £5,500 ($10,800) for a mid-range set of panels which means it is more affordable for many households.

The accepted practice has seen the installation of south facing panels over the last few years but developments across Europe and a need to provide a more even supply of electricity from solar PV means that there may be more incentives for houses and businesses to install West and East facing panels that can catch the sun earlier and later in the day.

Commercial Solar

There is a big push to try and get commercial properties to install solar panels on their roofs, particularly in big cities across the UK. There are huge benefits for businesses that opt to have this kind of technology installed and many are now starting to do so, including some big brand names, providing great cost cuttings for their own commercial ventures whilst also generating valuable electricity to the grid.

The Decline of Solar Farms

One of the reasons for the uptake in solar PV by commercial concerns has been the huge return on investment that can be gained through initiatives such as the Feed in Tariff. There has, however, been a backlash against larger solar farms with many people not wanting huge installations built in their area. With concerns growing that valuable farm land is being taken up by solar plants and worries over their impact on plants and animals, more emphasis had been put on building and installing in urban areas – in other words utilising roof space that is already there.

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The Future of Solar in the UK

With a new government in place after the May 2015 election then you might expect some different legislation in the near future. Whilst a number of Tory ministers doubt the efficacy of renewable energy, particularly technologies such as wind farms, there’s no doubt that the green sector is a growth area and is particularly useful for creating new jobs, something which lies at the heart of current Conservative policy. The further development of commercial solar pv also makes sense as it uses valuable roof space and creates capital for businesses allowing them to invest more and create more jobs.

The technological development of solar PV is still big in the research labs of the UK’s universities with several projects underway across the country to create new, greener and cost effective solar cells. But green technology is not just about solar at the moment and there are big investments being made in the area of tidal power production with installations planned for areas like Swansea Bay.

The question around solar PV in the UK, as with the industry in Australia and elsewhere, is whether it can survive and thrive without the government backing of the Feed in Tariff that makes it an attractive investment opportunity for homes and businesses. As more and more businesses begin to see the benefits, will there be enough money to back everyone who wants to install solar panels on their roof tops?

For the moment, however, the future of the solar PV industry in the UK remains bright and it is beginning to provide a significant contribution to the country’s energy needs.

Photo courtesy of  TEIA on Flickr

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