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UK and Germany Break Records for Solar Power

By John Vidal, The Guardian

Britain and Germany have broken records for generating solar electricity in the last few weeks, according to new industry figures.

Germany generated over half its electricity demand from solar for the first time ever on June 9, and the UK, basking in the sunniest weather of summer during the longest days of the year, nearly doubled its 2013 peak solar power output at the solstice weekend.

Germany, a leader in solar power, generated over half its electricity demand from solar for the first time ever on June 9, 2014.
Credit: Tim Fuller/Flickr

France, Italy, Denmark and other countries are also believed to have generated record amounts in June.

According to UK trade body the Solar Trade Association (STA), the total UK installed solar capacity generated from homes, buildings and solar farms is now about 4.7 gigawatts compared to 2.7 GW in July last year.

It is not possible to tell exactly how much solar power was generated in Britain because electricity from small-scale household units is not centrally measured, but the STA estimated on Monday that 3.9 percent of the UK's electricity demand was met by solar photovoltaic systems (PV) over the 24 hours of Saturday.

This means solar's contribution peaked at a record 7.8 percent of daytime electricity, on June 21, said the association.

"Britain has virtually doubled its capacity in the last year, with 80,000 more installations, including several thousand larger scale commercial ones," said Ray Noble, a consultant at the UK National Solar Center.

"There are now 530,000 installations in the UK, of which 510,000 are domestic small-scale ones. Last weekend we estimate they generated about 8 percent of daytime electricity in total," said Noble.

"We think that this is likely to double again within a year. There is nothing to stop it getting to 30-40 percent of UK electricity at this time of year," he said.

The figures were welcomed by UK energy minister Greg Barker, who was criticized in May for removing subsidies for large-scale solar farms. "We have put ourselves among the world leaders on solar and this ambitious strategy will place us right at the cutting edge.

"There is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy as part of our long term economic plan.

"Solar not only benefits the environment, it will see British job creation and deliver the clean and reliable energy supplies that the country needs at the lowest possible cost to consumers."

Germany, with 1.4 million PV systems, generated a peak of 23.1 GW hours at lunchtime on Monday, June 9, equivalent to 50.6 percent of its total electricity need. According to government development agency Germany trade and invest (GTAI), solar power grew 34 percent in the first five months of 2014 compared to last year.

The Westmill Solar farm on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border. Britain has virtually doubled its capacity in the last year.
Credit: RTPeat/Flickr

Europe added 10.9 GW of PV capacity in 2013, said the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (Epia), bringing the total installed capacity to over 81 GW on the continent.

"This represents a 16 percent increase compared to the year before and about 59 percent of the world's cumulative photovoltaic capacity," said a spokesman. "2013 was a record year for the UK, with 1.5 GW installed last year. Germany installed 3.3 GW, Italy 1.4 GW, Romania 1.1G W and Greece 1.04 GW."

But new figures from the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute suggest Europe is no longer the biggest market for solar power.

In 2013, says the EPI report, China added "at least" 11.3 GW and is now the second largest generator of solar power after Germany, and the U.S. added some 4.8 GW, increasing its total capacity by 65 percent to 12 GW.

"PV remains the most rapidly-growing energy technology by a wide margin. Indeed, global PV installations for 2014 should reach at least 40,000 megawatts, expanding world PV capacity by another 30 percent," says author J Matthew Roney.

California now has more than 240,000 small-scale solar installations on commercial and residential roofs across the state that amount to more than 2,200 MW of generation capacity.

The U.S. figure was greatly augmented by 25 new large-scale solar projects including the largest solar plant in the world in the Mojave Desert 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Elsewhere, Canada added 440 megawatts to reach 1.2 GW in 2013, Mexico nearly doubled its PV capacity to 100 MW and is expected to reach 240 MW by the end of 2014 and Japan, spurred by the closure of nuclear power plants following Fukushima more than doubled its capacity by adding 6.9 GW in 2013.

According to the European photovoltaic industry report, solar power is expected to grow 20 percent a year over the next few years.

Reprinted with permission by The Guardian