How Many People Have Solar Panels in the UK?

The number of solar panels in use in the UK is ever increasing, but more can be done to encourage their use

Solar panels have consistently decreased in cost, making them more accessible

The UK is amongst the top 12 countries for solar power capacity


 

Generating energy from solar panels might not seem like an obvious choice for many people in the UK, what with the abundance of overcast and rainy days here. However, solar panels can still work effectively with only a small amount of sunlight. That’s why a good number of Brits have adopted the technology – but how many, exactly?

Below, we’ll be looking at the number of people in the UK with solar panels, discussing whether solar panels’ popularity is expected to increase, and investigating how the UK compares to the rest of the world.

A house with solar panels on a sunny day

How many people have solar panels in the UK?

With the cost of solar panels decreasing by as much as 82% in the last decade, they’ve become easier than ever to install on a property. This trend is the same across residential and commercial properties, with both UK home owners and businesses increasingly turning to this eco-friendly mode of energy generation.

Home owners worried about solar panels reducing their property’s value need not worry either, with research showing that panels can actually increase a property’s value by as much as 4.1%.

It’s clear then that installing solar panels for your home or business is not too expensive or damaging to property value. With this in mind, we’ll take a look at the numbers of both residential and commercial properties using solar panels.

 

Residential

According to the UK government’s 2020 report, there are roughly 970,000 UK homes with solar panel installations. This means only 3.3% of the 29 million homes in the UK are generating electricity from solar panels – in other words, there’s definitely room for improvement here.

Still, these stats show a huge uptick from where solar panels were just over a decade ago. In 2008, solar panels accounted for just one megawatt of electricity generation in England. By 2020, solar panels were responsible for an astonishing 11,730 megawatts throughout the country.

This trend is much the same across the UK’s other regions, with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all seeing huge increases in the energy generated in homes by solar power.

 

Commercial

‘Commercial solar’ describes large-scale operations using solar power, such as in agriculture or manufacturing. ‘Business solar’ describes small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) using solar power, such as a corporate office or any enterprise with limited space for solar installations.

When we talk about commercial solar then, we need to look at the large-scale solar installations in the UK. A good example of this is solar farms, which are large plots of land filled with solar panels that generate electricity either for nearby villages, towns, and cities, or agricultural/industrial operations.

As of 2020, there are just under 500 solar farms operating in the UK. These are the five largest:

 

  1. Shotwick solar park – 250 acres, 72.2 megawatts produced per year
  2. Lynham solar farm – 213.3 acres, 69.8 megawatts produced per year
  3. Owl’s Hatch solar park – 212 acres, 51.9 megawatts produced per year
  4. Wroughton Airfield solar park – 165 acres, 50 megawatts produced per year
  5. West Raynham solar farm – 225 acres, 49.8 megawatts produced per year

How has this number changed over time?

Prior to 2010, the number of solar installations was progressing at a snail’s pace. This was down to many things, including poor return on investment, lack of government subsidies, and the high cost of solar panels themselves.

Since 2010, the number of solar panel installations has increased dramatically. This uptick is thanks to initiatives such as a feed-in tariff, which paid out a certain amount for every kWh of solar energy generated and every kWh of solar energy sent back to the grid.

This scheme has unfortunately stopped now, but during its run it definitely helped increase the number of homeowners getting solar panels installed. To give you some idea of just how much installations have increased, take a look at the table below:

man installing solar panels on roof

Do we expect it to increase?

Despite the table above suggesting that solar panel installations are slowing down, we still expect a continual increase in the number of people getting them. One obstacle, though, is that the UK government has ended the feed-in tariff subsidy for solar panels, meaning they’ve become less cost effective.

This decision came under significant criticism, and rightly so – the Labour Party said in 2019 that as a result of the subsidy ending, new solar panel capacity fell from 79 megawatts to just 5 megawatts.

Why do we still believe that solar panel installations will increase, then? Even though the UK government has made it more difficult, a growing ‘eco-conscience’ is pushing people to turn to renewable energy from sources like solar panels. And despite the feed-in tariff subsidy ending, the falling overall cost of solar is making it easier to buy and install panels outright.

What is the total solar panel capacity in the UK?

The UK is currently producing 13,258 megawatts of electricity per year, which is able to power around three million homes across the country. This is a big increase over the 5,488.6 megawatts produced in 2014. There is some concern that solar panel capacity stalled in 2020, but as the IEA has made clear, the COVID-19 pandemic definitely had an impact.

As the pandemic abates however, the UK is expected to continue to increase solar panel capacity in line with its drive to reach net zero by 2050. In fact, the IEA also projects the UK’s solar panel capacity to nearly triple by 2030.

This would reduce UK emissions by a significant 4.7%. Whilst that might not sound huge, in the context of a wider adoption of renewable energy sources it is still substantial.

How does the UK’s solar power capacity compare to the rest of the world?

The UK remains a leader in shifting away from fossil fuels, and its continued adoption of solar panels is impressive – but how exactly does it stack up against the rest of the planet?

Using available data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the UK currently sits in 11th place for renewable energy generation. That’s behind three other European countries – Spain, Italy, and Germany (in 10th, 6th, and 4th places respectively), with Germany in particular eclipsing the UK’s solar capacity by a lot (at 53,783 megawatts produced per year.

 

Here are the top 12 countries by solar capacity:

CountryInstalled capacity, megawattsWatts per capita% of world total
China 254,35514735.6%
U.S. 75,57223110.6%
Japan 67,0004989.4%
Germany 53,7835937.5%
India 39,211325.5%
Italy 21,6003453.0%
Australia 17,6276372.5%
Vietnam 16,504602.3%
South Korea14,5752172.0%
Spain 14,0891862.0%
United Kingdom13,5632001.9%
France11,7331481.6%

Source: IRENA (2021)

 

Outside of Europe, you have Japan and the United States in 3rd and 2nd place. Japan sits at a solar panel capacity of 67,000 megawatts, while the US is currently able to produce an impressive 75,572 megawatts (though considering the sheer size of the US, you could argue it’s not as impressive as it perhaps could be).

All these countries absolutely pale in comparison to the biggest hitter in the solar panel game: China. The world’s most populous nation produces a staggering 254,355 megawatts of electricity, accounting for 35% of the world’s global solar panel capacity.

Of course, the caveat is that China continues to lead a less-than-flattering statistic – that of the world’s worst polluter. Its carbon emissions make up 30% of all global emissions, which is more than double the next big polluter, the US.

Tom Gill Writer

Tom is a big fan of all things eco and has a passionate interest in how technology and localised projects can work together to make the world greener.

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