According to recent survey data released by the UK Department of Energy Security and Net Zero Emissions (DESNZ), as of the end of July this year, the cumulative installed capacity of photovoltaic systems in the country was 15,292.8MW, while the installed capacity of photovoltaic systems installed in the first seven months of this year was 643MW, compared with 315.5MW in the same period last year. Although Gareth Simkins, senior adviser to the British Photovoltaic Industry Association, believes these figures are relatively low. But he explained that some utility-scale PV plants may not have been included in this statistics so far, giving reason to be optimistic about the prospects for the UK PV market.

In July this year alone, some 71.3MW of PV systems were installed in the UK, but this figure is considered provisional and is expected to be revised as more PV systems come online. In the UK, the number of new photovoltaic systems added in July 2022 was 46.4MW, and the installed capacity of new photovoltaic systems in June this year was 84MW.

Simkins believes these numbers are relatively low. "I suspect this is a temporary blip," he said. "One thing I want to emphasize is that I don't think these numbers are conclusive."

Chris Hewett, chief executive of the British Photovoltaic Industry Association, explained that data provided by government departments often lags behind the development of the utility-scale PV market, and there is no reliable data to quantify the installed capacity of rooftop PV systems in the commercial industry. "This is in line with government statistics over the past few years. We know that the actual installed capacity of rooftop PV systems is much higher compared to the figures published by government departments," Hewett said.

Hewett said that based on feedback received from members of the British Photovoltaic Industry Association, the UK commercial rooftop photovoltaic market and the residential small photovoltaic system market are continuing to grow. Simkins estimates that the cumulative installed photovoltaic systems in the UK by July should be 16GW. He predicted that figures for 2023, 2024 and 2025 should reflect strong growth in the UK PV industry.

Simkins said: “Achieving the UK government’s target of installing 70GW of photovoltaic systems by 2035 means that UK photovoltaic industry manufacturers will need to install 4.5GW of photovoltaic systems every year from now to 2035. Although this is within the capabilities of photovoltaic manufacturers, Obviously this goal will not be achieved immediately, we will accelerate development to achieve this goal, and probably exceed this goal."

In March 2023, the British government established a photovoltaic working group, an alliance of photovoltaic industry stakeholders co-led by Hewett, responsible for accelerating the development of the photovoltaic market and achieving the goal of installing 70GW photovoltaic systems by 2035. Its plans focus on increasing rooftop PV systems and ground-mounted PV systems, but also include securing investment and increasing the skilled workforce in the PV industry. The photovoltaic working group aims to publish a roadmap in 2024 to achieve the goal of installing 70GW of photovoltaic systems by 2035.

Hewett said the biggest challenge facing the UK PV industry was connecting to the grid and investing in it, which has historically been hampered by some regulations from the Office for Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), the UK government agency that regulates the electricity and downstream gas markets.

He said: “Some of the regulations from Ofgem have driven down investment, and the reason why PV systems are allowed to be connected to the grid is because it is seen as increasingly being paid for by consumers. Obviously, PV generation and Wind power is now the cheapest electricity generation technology on the market, and the sooner photovoltaic systems and wind power facilities are brought to market, the faster electricity prices can be reduced."

The second major issue facing the UK PV industry is developing a skilled workforce. Hewett said this meant ensuring that PV system installers and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies could recruit sufficient numbers of qualified workers to meet market demand. "We're starting to hold recruitment events and we're doing more training events, so it's a challenge, but it's a challenge that the PV industry is starting to face," he said.

Hewett added that other issues include improving the reliability of the supply chain, building in-house capabilities such as the manufacturing and sales of cells, and more broadly removing some of the minutiae surrounding rooftop PV systems. This will involve some challenges, such as negotiating between tenants and landlords the possibility of installing a rooftop photovoltaic system on the rental residence.

Interestingly, the British Photovoltaic Industry Association has seen that many household users have installed battery energy storage systems for their rooftop photovoltaics. At least 50% of photovoltaic systems are now equipped with battery energy storage systems. This is a major feature of the UK photovoltaic market. According to data released by the British government on its website, more than 1 million British households currently have rooftop photovoltaic systems installed, but there is still more untapped potential, such as commercial buildings, schools, warehouses, parking lots and water bodies that can all be installed with rooftop photovoltaics.

Notable utility-scale PV projects include the 350MW Cleve Hill PV park under construction on the north coast of Kent, scheduled for completion in 2024. In addition, there are plans to develop the 840MW Botley West photovoltaic power station in Oxfordshire, which has not yet submitted for planning permission.