Solar panels surpass coal-fired electricity in previously 'unthinkable' feat
Solar panels generated more electricity than coal in the past six months in a historic year for getting energy from the sun in the UK. Research found that solar generated nearly 7,000GwH of electricity between April and September, about 10 per cent more than the 6,300GwH produced by coal during the period.
The figures represent a dramatic turnaround in the UK’s electricity supplies. The first ever day when solar produced more than coal was only on 9 April – when there was no coal-fired electricity for the first time since 1882. But then May became the first ever month when this happened.
Solar capacity nearly doubled in 2015, but has been hit hard by cuts to Government support, which is currently needed to persuade investors to build any kind of power generation, including fossil fuels.
James Court, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association, said: “Solar overtaking coal this summer would have been largely unthinkable five years ago.
“This new data shows its popularity amongst homeowners and businesses and its falling costs. Now that we have a significant global and domestic industry, solar is one of the cheapest forms of power.
“Government policy stability is critical, however. Solar PV deployment in August 2016 was one third of what it was in August 2015 due to the sudden and severe changes to policy in the past year.”
The trend is unlikely to continue. Because there is less sunlight and a rise in demand for heating and lighting during the winter months, coal will once again overtake solar.
However scientists have recently been working on using a novel technology to store energy from the summer sun until it is needed in the winter.
And energy storage systems, which solve potential intermittency problems with some renewable generators, have been increasing.
“The role for solar is significantly expanding as we develop complementary energy storage technologies, but we need government support to continue to achieve its potential,” Mr Court said.
A report by the Renewable Energy Association found there were now 35 grid-scale electricity storage projects and at least 1,500 residential ones, totaling about 3.2GW.
These include hydro schemes, where electricity can be used to pump water uphill so that it can be used to drive turbines when needed.