The recent spell of hot weather saw solar power overtake gas as the UK’s primary source of energy. In fact, thanks to the heatwave, solar power broke several generation-related records and became, for a small amount of time, the UK’s top source of electricity. Looks like sunshine is good for more than just a tan.
This comes as welcome news in the wake of what has been a relatively slow year for solar installations. The number of new solar installations has all but flatlined over the past year but this run of mostly cloudless days has proved perfect conditions for high power generation in this sector.
Between the 21st and 28th of June solar power generation broke the record for weekly output. The energy source produced 533 gigawatt hours of power. Within that week long period, solar generated over 75 GWh on five of the seven days, which was another record in itself. Yet another record was broken when solar output hit a high of over 8 GW for eight days straight.
While the records will not create any lasting impact and are mostly symbolic, it shows how far solar power and its related technology have come in the past few years. In recent days we have seen a return to the norm as gas and nuclear have generated the bulk of our power.
Duncan Burt, director of system operations at National Grid, said: “During the past 12 months alone, we have seen renewable generation records broken and we expect this trend to continue, as technology advances and we find new ways to accommodate and manage more wind and solar power on our network.”
On Saturday afternoon, for a total of about an hour, the solar panels peppering the country’s fields and rooftops constituted the number one source of electricity. It contributed over 27% to the energy mix. It must be noted, however, that to date solar power only comes top at the weekends when the demand for power is lower.
On May 14th, earlier this year, the record for peak solar generation was set at a whopping 9.42 GW. This is promising news for a country with ambitions to transition fully to renewables over the course of the next couple of decades. However, the solar capacity by the end of May this year was 12.8 GW, which is only 1.6% more than it was last May.
Unfortunately, this might be the last spike in solar power we see any time soon as solar records are predicted to slow down. Subsidy cuts have seen growth peter out and the incentives in place for householders to put panels on their roofs are going to expire next year. Right now, there is no indication that a replacement scheme will be implemented.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Some developers believe that by going large, they will be able to build solar projects without subsidies.
Hive Energy spoke to an industry audience last week and announced that thanks to improvements in technology, its planned solar farm in Kent is likely to have around 14% more capacity than originally anticipated.
The Cleve Hill scheme is predicted to have a capacity of as much as 400MW, which would completely overshadow the UK’s current largest solar farm, which is located in Wales and has a capacity of 72.2MW.
Dr Alastair Buckley, a solar expert at the University of Sheffield, said: “This marks the start of subsidy-free solar being economically viable, and I genuinely believe we’ll see bigger changes to the electricity sector in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the past 10.”