A record amount of solar capacity was approved in the UK this year, with still a few months to go in 2022. A significant level of the capacity submitted is likely to be added to the final figure before the year ends.
In an analysis by the Solar Media Market Research team, nearly 4GW of new solar farm capacity has been approved this year, an increase from a total of 3.1GW approved in 2021. With plans for an increased rate of annual solar deployment over the next few years, the UK Solar Summit that recently happened in London attracted key industry players responsible for driving much of the new solar activity.
With continued growth, solar sites have become a hot topic across the UK. There is a range of factors that must be considered with this growth. Firstly, there has been a large number of applications in the works over the last few years. Secondly, the scale of some sites (particularly Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects NSIPs) that are much bigger than in the past. Some clusters of applications proposed are located within certain regions in the Midlands and Eastern part of the UK. There is also the ongoing role of solar within the UK energy mix and the continued debate of food versus energy production on land in general.
Nevertheless, over 4GW of new solar farm capacity was approved in 2022. Industry experts point out that achieving 100% planning approval success is unlikely, particularly as solar sites have scaled up in size over the last few years. The more sites submitted into planning, the more there will be refused and approved. Often, the few that are refused will contain amplified local campaign activities, but the sites approved while outweighing the few refused are barely mentioned.
From a capacity perspective, there is little difference in the rates of approval and refusal last year compared to other years of stronger solar applications in 2014 and 2015. Many factors could be assessed in determining approval, but the most important figure is the capacity approved, when it will come online and how this will support the UK in achieving its net-zero and energy security targets.
The most positive segment experiencing strong deployment in the UK today is within the commercial space, a market that has struggled to gain traction in previous years. While there was a general slowdown in the market before 2020 (due to incentive drops happening quicker than commercial rooftops could be enabled), the main drive in the commercial rooftop space is due to environmental and sustainability targets set by corporates.
The final market size for this year will depend on the quantity of subsidy-free 50MW sites completed between now and the year-end. This is difficult to determine and could range from anywhere between 250MW up to 750MW.
Moving into 2023, rooftop solar is likely to continue growing at approximately 30%, and the ground-mounted industry could easily reach 1GW. Combined, the UK could have a market of 2GW by 2023. Whichever way it goes, the UK solar industry is on track to sustain a GW-plus of new capacity added every year. There will no doubt be other challenges the industry will face, but assuming no major disruption, the UK could easily maintain a rate of 2-3GW per year during the next few years.