LONDON — U.K. solar electricity may more than double this year as a boom in solar farms and domestic installations adds 2 gigawatts of new capacity, according to Trina Solar Ltd., the third-biggest solar cell maker.
“The U.K.’s in a boom right now, so in the first quarter, I’d expect 800 megawatts to a gigawatt to be installed in fields,” Hill said. “We have a continual and understandable program for the next two to three years, so market players can understand what’s going to happen. We expect good growth from our residential and commercial business there.”
The comments mark a turnaround in the U.K. where ministers in 2011 cut guaranteed prices for solar power after installations increased 10-fold. That led to industry complaints about the unpredictability of policy and a legal challenge that the government lost from Solarcentury Holdings Ltd. and Homesun Ltd., which disputed the timing of the reduction.
Hill’s prediction for 2 gigawatts of U.K. installations this year compares with the current installed base that Energy Minister Greg Barker put at 1.8 gigawatts in a Jan. 16 speech. London-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts installations this year will total 1.1 gigawatts, up from 830 megawatts in 2012.
The government is chasing 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020, and on Dec. 27 added the technology to a list of nine deemed crucial for the nation to meet renewable-energy and carbon-reduction targets. That followed the second wettest year on record, with U.K. rainfall averaging 1,330.7 millimeters (52.4 inches), just 6.6 millimeters short of the record set in 2000, according to the Met Office, the government forecaster.
Guaranteed prices for electricity, known as feed-in tariffs, or FITs, are the main spur for rooftop installations, and changes to them were the subject of the legal challenges in 2011. Since then, the government has introduced a system of rolling cuts to ensure predictable reductions as solar costs come down and installations mount.
A coalition of 17 companies is still seeking 140 million pounds ($221 million) in damages from the Department of Energy and Climate Change for loss of jobs, and earnings as a result of the 2011 cuts, they said in an e-mailed statement last week.
Hill’s forecast for a surge in ground-mounted panels this quarter is because assistance to larger solar projects under the government’s Renewable Obligation is being cut from April 1. Under that program, electricity generators receive tradable Renewable Obligation Certificates, or ROCs, for every megawatt- hour of power from clean energy sources. The solar rate is being cut from 2 ROCs per megawatt-hour to 1.7 for rooftop panels and 1.6 for ground arrays.
“The residential and commercial business is very exciting there, and now we have a big boom in the bigger projects, and even with 1.6 ROCs that will allow the free field business to continue,” Hill said. “What industry has managed to achieve in the U.K. is a sustainable view for the future.”
Copyright 2013 Bloomberg
Lead image: Solar panels via Shutterstock