Thousands of photovoltaic panels across the UK generate 8.7GW, smashing previous high of 8.48GW earlier this month
By Adam Vaughan
Solar power has broken new records in the UK by providing nearly a quarter of the country’s electricity needs, thanks to sunny skies and relatively low summer demand.
National Grid said the thousands of photovoltaic panels on rooftops and in fields across the UK were generating 8.7GW, or 24.3% of demand at 1pm on Friday, smashing the previous high of 8.48GW earlier this month.
Experts said the unprecedented share for solar energy meant about 60% of the UK’s power was low carbon, taking into account Britain’s wind farms and nuclear power stations too. That figure is normally around 50%.
National Grid, which is tasked with ensuring a match between supply and demand for electricity, said it was excited but unfazed by the challenge of accommodating “significant volumes” of renewables.
Duncan Burt, who manages day-to-day operation of the grid, said: “We have planned for these changes to the energy landscape and have the tools available to ensure we can balance supply and demand.”
Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace, said: “Today’s new record is a reminder of what the UK could achieve if our government reversed its cuts to support for solar, and backed the clean technologies that could provide jobs, business opportunities and plentiful clean energy for decades to come.”
The milestone reached on Friday is the latest in a series of records for solar, which has grown from almost nothing seven years ago to 12GW of capacity today. Last summer it provided more power than the UK’s last 10 coal-fired power stations.
In April this year, Britain achieved its first-ever full working day without coal power since it started burning the fuel in 1882, thanks in part to solar energy.
Solar’s rapid growth is overturning conventions for the managers of the UK’s power grid. In March, for the first time ever, the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses in the afternoon was lower than it was in the night, thanks to the cut in demand due to solar panels.
Alastair Buckley, a solar expert at the University of Sheffield, said of the latest record: “I think it’s a positive sign. It’s free electricity today, for the consumer, and we should make the most of it.”
He said that with solar continuing to be installed despite the government’s drastic subsidy cuts in 2016, further records will certainly be broken this summer and for years to come.
Buckley said the grid could handle a far greater proportion of solar power than currently seen, because gas power stations could be ramped down. For National Grid, periods of high pressure bringing lovely weather to the UK like this week were: “really predictable, so easy to plan for,” Buckley said.
Robert Gross of Imperial College said: “This doesn’t pose fundamental problem for the grid – many sunnier countries manage a similar proportion of solar on a much more regular basis.”
Government statistics published on Thursday show that UK solar power capacity has grown from 11.3GW in April last year to 12.1GW this year, enough to power 3.8m homes.