UK solar PV boomed in 2015 but industry warns of steep job losses

28th July 2016

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  • Conventional ,
  • Fossil fuels ,
  • Renewable


Andrew Kirk

Electricity generated by solar panels soared by 87% in 2015, with UK capacity reaching 9.2GW by the end of the year, according to the latest government data.

Solar PV and onshore wind were joint leaders of renewable technology in terms of total renewable capacity installed, with each reaching a 30% share. The 3.8GW added in 2015 to overall solar capacity was mostly from schemes accredited through the renewables obligation.

The statistics were contained in the annual energy digest from the business, energy and industrial strategy department (BEIS), published today.

Despite the boom in 2015, the solar industry is fearful for the future. A third of solar jobs have been lost in the past year and a further 30% of solar businesses expect to cut staff in the next 12 months, according to analysis published this week by the Solar Trade Association (STA) and consultants PwC.

The 238 solar industry firms surveyed employ 3,665 people now compared to 5,362 a year ago, a fall of 32%. Four in 10 firms are being forced to either exit the solar market entirely or diversify into other markets to remain viable, the poll found.

If this pattern is repeated across the whole UK solar industry, job losses in the past year could have exceeded 12,500, authors of the report estimated. Solar deployment this year is expected to fall to less than 300MW this year.

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the STA, said that the survey shows the scale of the damage recent policy changes have inflicted on the British solar industry and the need for the government to take urgent action.

She noted that, since the survey was undertaken, it has been revealed that business rates on commercial rooftop solar installations will rise by between six and eight times from April next year as part of the regular re-evaluation of business rates.

She urged new ministers to instead reward investment with sensible solar tax breaks consistent with action on climate change. ‘International experience of tax breaks is solid, and the industry is clearly behind this. There are many good economic reasons to back the British solar including minimising the cost of decarbonising our power supply to retain competitiveness, while creating an exceptionally large numbers of jobs.

‘Our economy faces a major challenge post Brexit; if we want to prosper in future we must strengthen the UK stake in booming global markets – they don’t come bigger than solar,’ she said.

The BEIS statistics also show:

  • The contribution of all renewable sources to UK electricity generation was 24.6% in 2015, 5.5 percentage points higher than in 2014. Total capacity reached 30.5GW, an increase of 23%.
  • Generation from bioenergy sources was 30% higher in 2015 compared to 2014 due to the conversion of a third unit to co-firing at the Drax power station.
  • Offshore wind generation was 30% higher last year than in 2014, with capacity up 13%.
  • Onshore wind was 23% higher, with capacity increasing by 7.6%.
  • Renewable heat increased by 20% during 2015, to 3,535 kilotonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe).
  • Production of renewable biofuels for transport fell by 19%, to 1,003 ktoe.
  • Total energy consumption from renewable sources in the UK reached around 8.3% in 2015, up from 7% in 2014 and 5.8% in 2013. The UK has a target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive to generate 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020, a level which is likely to be missed according to the National Grid, the European Commission and the government itself.


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