This summer was the "cleanest ever" in terms of the UK's energy consumption. That's more good news for British supporters of renewable energy on the day the country's first subsidy-free solar farm opens.
The UK's first solar power farm to operate without government subsidies opens on Tuesday, in a further indication of how the country's energy market is moving towards renewable sources.
The 10 megawatt (MW) solar farm — which can generate enough electricity to power around 2,500 homes — has been developed in Bedfordshire, about 40 miles north of London, by Anesco, a private company that specializes in developing solar and battery storage sites before selling them on. The farm's significance lies in the fact that it is the first to be developed in the UK that is not reliant on government funding or incentive schemes.
Solar power still accounts for a relatively small amount of the UK's energy consumption (3.4 percent in 2016) but it is growing rapidly in importance, along with other forms of renewables such as wind, hydroelectric and bio energy.
The most recent UK figures showed that renewables' share of electricity generation was just under 27 percent in the first quarter of 2017 with the use of solar power growing by 16 percent in that period as a result of increased capacity.
"The cost of solar panels and batteries has fallen dramatically over the past few years, and this first subsidy-free development at Clayhill is a significant moment for clean energy in the UK,” Claire Perry, minister for Climate Change and Industry said ahead of Tuesday's official opening.
"Cleanest ever" summer
Solar power facilities in the UK grew dramatically in 2014 and 2015 but a government decision to reduce subsidies saw a sharp fall-off in growth in 2016. However, the development at Clayhill comes amid renewed confidence in the industry, alongside news from the UK's National Grid that this summer was the UK's "cleanest ever" in terms of its energy consumption.
From June to September, more than half of the country's power came from low-carbon sources, compared with just over one third four years ago.
"It's been a summer of records," said Duncan Burt of the National Grid. "We've gone from renewables being a part of the mix to often being a significant, majority part of the mix.”
The UK plans to increasingly shift towards renewable sources of energy in the coming years as it aims to lower its carbon emissions significantly by the 2020s. In the six years since Germany announced it intended on phasing out nuclear power by 2022, renewable power usage has boomed to record usage in the country.
While both the UK government and renewable energy supporters have welcomed the opening of the Clayhill facility, the Solar Trade Association (STA), a UK solar industry group, gave it a qualified welcome, with a spokeswoman saying that government subsidies would still be required to support the majority of solar projects into the future.