UK set to smash renewable energy targets for 2020

Reflecting the large-scale uptake of clean energy worldwide—with China and India spearheading the expansion in terms of consumption and production —the number of new solar panel installations throughout the UK has continued to rise.

A steady surge in the UK's solar panels market means the country is on course to achieve almost double its 2020 renewable energy target.

Reflecting the large-scale uptake of clean energy worldwide—with China and India spearheading the expansion in terms of consumption and production —the number of new solar panel installations throughout the UK has continued to rise.

Between January 2017 and 2018, over 67,500 new systems were fitted and registered with the Government's Feed-in Tariff (FIT), an incentive scheme that pays householders for the electricity they generate. The growth takes the overall number of installations to nearly 940,000.

Duncan McCombie, CEO of the award-winning energy efficiency firm YES Energy Solutions, supports the notion of people taking more control of how their energy is produced, but feels more needs to be done. He explained:

"It's great to see the continued deployment of solar panels across the county. More and more people are investing despite reductions in subsidies. A move to solar energy is now seen by many as a sensible investment, driving a modest and risk-free return, and a great way to reduce bills, live more sustainably and add value to properties and businesses.

"However, the industry still needs to do more to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy technologies in a positive light, debunking the myths and providing support and accessible information. Manufacturing costs are dropping and renewable technology across the board is becoming more affordable. We just need to get the message out there."

The UK works to targets set by the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which says that by 2020 at least 15 per cent of the country's energy must come from renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

With renewables already producing around one-quarter of the UK's electricity, current ambitions to double the 15 per cent goal by the turn of the decade look to be comfortably possible.

Solar photovoltaics are the leading technology in capacity terms at 11.9 GW, representing a third of total electricity capacity[1]. This comes despite the gradual dwindling of the financial incentives offered by the FIT and the closure of the Renewables Obligation, a similar scheme for larger renewable electricity projects such as solar farms. The FIT is also set to end in 2019.

For some, this retraction of government commitment heralds the beginning of a gloomier era for solar energy. Revising its forecasts for how many new solar panel systems will be installed in the UK up to 2022, the International Energy Agency predicts there will be 20 per cent fewer than the number fitted during the last six years.

Yet other signs point to a much brighter future for solar energy in the UK. Following the landmark opening in September 2017 of the country's first subsidy-free solar farm in Bedfordshire, the solar industry continues to search for ways to develop schemes without the need for state support.

And renewable energy companies remain confident in what lies ahead. McCombie explained:

"Solar technology is improving all the time. With falling costs and increasing technological advances in areas such as storage at scale, there's likely to be a continued focus in getting renewable electricity. Over the next few years we'll see continued major advancements in battery technology, enabling householders to harness the energy their panels produce in the day and use it during the night, or to charge their electric cars. Soon batteries and solar panels will become an integral part of many domestic systems, helping residents capitalise on their savings and putting them in even more control of their energy."

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