blue solar panels during daytiem

Sunny weather and the UK have never been friends—the weather is notoriously rainy and cloudy year-round. Despite this, solar energy adoption is on the rise. From the sunny south to the overcast north, homeowners are recognising the benefits of renewable solar energy and making the switch.

In 2010, there were just 22,000 rooftop solar panel installations around the UK. Today, that number is well over a million.

So, how did we get here? Let’s take a look at the factors that contributed to the explosion of the solar energy market in the UK.

Current State of the UK’s Solar Energy Market

Solar is a reliable source of clean energy that comes with the added benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and lowering utility costs. This has made solar energy an attractive option for thousands of UK homeowners, who have been the main driving force behind the country’s rising solar power capacity.

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The current cumulative solar power capacity in the UK is 14.65 GW, according to Statista. This makes it the third-largest maximum net-generating country among European nations.

Though the UK’s solar power capacity has skyrocketed in recent years, it still ranks fourth among renewable energy sources. Solar energy only accounts for 4.4% of the UK’s total renewable energy generation.

With the UK government having set a target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, clean energy sources like solar power are going to become much more critical in the coming years. In fact, the National Grid expects the UK’s total solar generation to climb from 14 GW to 70 GW by 2030.

5 Key Reasons for the UK’s Growing Solar Energy Demand

Homeowners are turning to solar power in unprecedented numbers, with 73% of all solar panel installations in 2022 done for households. Such consistent and sustained growth never occurs in a vacuum. Many different factors have come together to create the conditions for the UK’s solar power market to grow at this rate.

Let’s look at some of the main reasons why more people than ever are switching to solar:

1.     Government Policies

Much of the growth witnessed in the solar sector over the last two decades can be attributed to government policies.

Feed-In Tariffs (FiT), which ran from 2010 to 2019, were a significant motivator for many people to adopt solar energy. Under this scheme, those generating surplus energy through renewable sources like solar were eligible to receive payments from official FiT licensees in a buyback model. FiT drove large numbers of transitions to solar—the peak was during the quarter of 2012, when 99,790 installations were completed.

Though FiT was discontinued in 2019, solar system owners can still earn returns on their investments under the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), which is a similar model.

With government incentives like FiT and SEG in place, solar energy remains a very attractive solution for many homeowner’s power problems.

2.     Rising Energy Prices

As highlighted by Solar Advice, fossil fuels like coal and petrol continue to become more expensive due to a fractious geopolitical climate. Since the outbreak of war in Europe, supply chains from the continent to the UK have been disrupted, causing fluctuations in the price of oil.

With these traditional sources of energy becoming costlier, citizens of the UK have had to turn to clean energy sources like solar power. The spiralling costs became so oppressive for consumers that the government had to step in and set price caps that limited how much electricity providers could charge for power.

By switching to solar, many homeowners were able to break out of the reliance on gas-powered electricity and reduce the strain on the national grid. Another benefit of this switch is that solar power was being generated locally, providing a greater degree of energy security compared to imported fossil fuels.

3.     Environmental Concerns

As the world’s energy demands continue to climb, the importance of finding a sustainable way to meet those needs also increases. Climate change and environmental degradation are directly linked to the rampant collection and consumption of fossil fuels worldwide.

As scientists ring alarm bells for the health of the planet, consumers can offset the damage of the last few decades by making more conscientious and sustainable choices. Solar energy is a vast improvement over fossil fuels on most metrics related to sustainability and environment friendliness, as it is renewable and storable.

Significant change and sustainable growth will only be achieved when enough people switch from non-renewable energy sources to more sustainable ones. Luckily, the success story of solar energy in the UK shows that the switch is possible, given the right conditions and sentiment.

4.     Lower Installation Costs

Years ago, solar power systems were viewed as an ideal but ultimately too expensive addition to a home. That time has passed. Today, homeowners in the UK are turning to solar power in droves because installation and maintenance costs have decreased sharply over the years.

In May 2023, a news report from the UK’s Solar Power Portal showed that consumer solar costs dropped 13% in the previous six months.

The cost of a solar power system installation depends mainly on four factors:

  • Solar panel type
  • Solar system size
  • Installation charges
  • Labour costs

The UK Federation of Master Builders estimates that the average cost for a 4kW system is around £5,000. Given the savings on utility bills and incentives under SEG, solar panel owners will be able to recoup their investment over the system’s lifetime.

5.     Economic Growth

Solar energy has already become the fastest-growing segment in the UK’s energy industry. According to industry reports, the segment saw a growth of 38% in 2022 and is now on track to see up to 40% growth in 2023.

This upward trajectory has had a positive effect on the UK’s economy as well. As an industry, solar power requires a large pool of skilled workers. The workforce must be able to research, design, install, and maintain the components of solar power systems over their entire lifetimes, which last decades. This has created a market for jobs in manufacturing, installation, research, and development.

Solar Power’s Future in the UK

Rather fittingly, for an energy source that relies on sunshine, the future of solar power in the UK is quite bright. The recent uptick in the number of people installing solar panels on their roofs points to an encouraging trend, one where there is a collective shift toward a more sustainable energy ecosystem in the UK.

Over time, the benefits of having solar panels providing energy will far outweigh the initial hassle and expense of setting them up. The industry has been showing encouraging growth over the past couple of years, so the scope for expansion is quite promising.

Even so, the ascension of solar energy in the UK is not without its challenges. Certain developments, like the government discontinuing the FiT scheme, have slowed down solar energy’s momentum.

Consumers and the environment suffer when regulations get in the way of sustainable technology. The solar energy segment must also deal with competition from other renewable sources, like wind energy and hydroelectricity.

It will take a collective effort from the UK’s public and its authorities to further encourage solar growth. When national sentiment and planning regulations are aligned, the solar industry will be able to continue its impressive expansion from the last few years.

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