Government figures suggest British solar industry past major landmark last week, as installers work towards delivering one million roofs by 2015
The solar power industry appears to have installed its 500,000th set of panels in the UK in recent days, in a move that marks a major milestone for the burgeoning sector.
According to figures by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, 499,687 solar schemes had been installed by January 5 under the feed-in tariff scheme that supports solar arrays with a capacity smaller than 50kW.
With the solar market installing around 1,900 schemes on average per week over the past year and work now picking up after the Christmas holidays it is highly likely more than 313 would have been installed last week, taking the industry past the half a million mark.
However, it remains to be seen how close the industry is towards its goal of installing one million solar arrays specifically on homes by 2015. On one hand, the figures show that only 478,875 of the installations were definitely fitted on domestic rooftops, with larger installations likely to have featured on offices and commercial properties. But Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association argued that several thousand panels were installed on rooftops before the feed-in tariff began, meaning that the industry is likely to have delivered around half a million domestic installations.
She welcomed the data as further evidence of the growing popularity of solar technology in the UK and predicted that the sector's target for 2015 now looked "very achievable".
"Politicians may be fighting about energy and climate change in Westminster, but the public are just getting on with it," she told BusinessGreen. "A quiet solar revolution has been taking place led by half a million everyday households. Polls show over and over that the public back renewables and they have indeed put their hands in their pockets to prove it."
Some critics have attacked the feed-in tariff scheme for requiring all energy billpayers to effectively provide additional payments to those households that have installed solar power.
But Greene countered that the incentive scheme was delivering net benefits to the UK by mobilising an industry that has delivered steep reductions in costs in recent years. "Everyone who invests in solar is helping to bring down costs for everyone else in future," she said. "Thanks to public investment subsidies have dropped 65 per cent in three years and costs continue to fall. If we carry on investing, solar will soon be able to compete with 'Big Six' energy bills without subsidy. The FIT cost around £7 on household bills last year, so for all the hysteria about renewables costs, this is proving to be a very affordable energy revolution indeed."
The government figures reveal that the installations have provided more than 1.8GW of capacity to the grid.
Speaking at an event in Parliament last week, Climate Change Minister Greg Barker predicted the UK will pass the 3GW of capacity milestone in the coming months, when utility scale solar projects are taken into account.
"That is more than any other country in Europe and puts us right up there in the growth sectors of anywhere in the world, it's a staggering achievement," he said.