Can you remember when you first started seeing solar panels on roofs in the UK? You may be surprised to know that its a fairly recent phenomenon. Even though we’re so used to seeing them today, back in 2008 just a tiny fraction of the population had them.
Considering the technology has been around for 50 years and seems like such a good idea today, why did it take so long for us in the UK to catch up? (and why are we still trying to catch up?) To offer some kind of answers to these questions, I’ve set out some points of reference.
- Even though the solar cells existed, infrastructure to harness the energy they created wasn’t in place. The idea of wiring your home to send unused energy back to the grid needed a lot of input from energy companies, governments etc. Britain was slow off the mark on this, lagging far behind it’s European neighbours who’d spent time and effort on infrastructure.
- With various climate protocols on energy consumption, fossil fuels and renewable energy, Britain signed up to reduce it’s carbon footprint and wheels were set in motion for the UK solar market.
- Not until August 2006 when it was widely announced by mainstream media that the high street retailer Curry’s was going to start selling solar panels (and offered an installation service) did the photovoltaic market in the UK kick off in earnest.
- At the same time, many commercial projects appeared too, with solar farms springing up in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Wales. Initially this was seen as a great opportunity by investors to turn land into an energy station.
- The introduction of the FiT (Feed-in Tariff) in 2010 saw the government subsidise the cost of installing solar, by offering to buy the surplus energy a system produced at a fixed price of 43p.
- It became obvious very quickly that the government had been far too generous with this initial subsidy, and it quickly changed it’s position within a year to exclude systems larger than 50kW. This angered the business community who’d rushed to buy land and make planning applications. As a result, few large scale commercial solar farms exist in the UK.
Given the background to the hap-hazzard approach taken by the British government, the solar industry in the UK stalled and almost disappeared altogether, were it not for the fact our eyes as consumers were opened to the possibility that we could have some kind of energy independence.
The early naughties did see many homes take whatever feed in tariffs were available from the government, but the rate of growth still lagged behind the Governments’ promise of 22GW of power to come from solar by the year 2020.