Solar Power Hits New Highs in Britain

Solar power generation reached new highs in the United Kingdom recently, with a heat wave and stretch of sunny days across the country highlighting the potential for renewable energy in Britain.

Solar produced a record 533 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power from June 21-28. Solar output topped 8 GW on each of the eight days, the first time that has occurred. Recent solar output also has marked the first time, however briefly, that solar generation topped natural gas as the country’s top energy source.

Government data show that on the afternoon of June 30, solar generated nearly 28% of the UK’s power, with natural gas at 27%, nuclear power at just below 23%, and wind power at just under 10%. Officials said solar is more likely to be the dominant resource on weekend days when overall power demand is lower.

The country’s record one-day peak for solar power generation of 9.42 GW occurred on May 14 of this year.

Temperatures across Britain have consistently been between 25C (77F) and 29C (84F) in recent days, with higher-than-normal temperatures expected to continue at least through mid-July, according to forecasters. Recent weather patterns have produced a string of mostly sunny days across Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. Scotland on June 28 recorded its highest-ever temperature at 33.2C (92F). BBC Weather reported that highs above 30C (86F) were recorded in all four nations of the UK that day for the first time since 2013.

Britain is powered via the National Grid, which is undergoing organizational changes over the next year. The group is setting up a new, legally separate company—National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO)—that will carry out the electricity system operator (ESO) function beginning in April 2019. The ESO role includes balancing the electricity grid in real-time, a more important function as more intermittent renewable power is added to the power mix.

The pace of solar installations has slowed across Britain in the past year as the government has ended subsidies and other incentives for their use. However, solar developers such as Hive Energy, which has 300 MW of installed capacity across Britain, think utility-scale projects will continue to grow. Company officials told an industry conference last week that its planned solar farm in Kent will have 14% more capacity than originally thought, thanks to technological improvements. Hive said the Cleve Hill Solar Park could have generation capacity of at least 400 MW, which would dwarf the capacity of the UK’s largest operating solar farm, the 72.2-MW Shotwick Solar Park in Wales.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).