Siân Crampsie

Solar energy developers in the UK worked ‘around the clock’ in March to beat a deadline marking the end of subsidy support for large-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects.

An estimated 1.5 GW of ground-mounted PV capacity was built in the UK in the first quarter of 2015 alone, according to IHS Technology, which also believes that the year to the end of March 2015 saw a total of 2.2 GW added.

This compares to 1.3 GW added in the year to the end of March 2014.

Solar energy projects over 5 MW in size are no longer eligible for renewables obligation (RO) support and firms developing large-scale projects will have to compete for contracts for difference (CFD) alongside onshore wind projects.

The change in policy is likely to mean that no large-scale PV projects will be built in the coming year, except for around 150-200 MW allowed under an extended deadline for projects delayed by grid connections.

The Solar Trade Association said that it was a "tragedy" that no new large-scale farms would be built in the next year. "As we predicted these types of projects could be cheaper than gas in just 3 years with stable policy support," said STA head of external affairs Leonie Greene.

STA added that the numerous small and medium sized enterprises involved in the UK’s solar energy sector would have to "rewrite their business plans" because of the government’s "rollercoaster" policies. Many will focus on solar farms in the sub-5MW category while others will look for opportunities in the commercial roof-mounted sector.

"It’s been a year of uncertainty for many across the industry with plenty of hurdles along the way and many more to come, but we truly believe that solar energy is on the cusp of being able to deliver its full potential," said Nick Boyle, CEO of Lightsource Renewable Energy, which connected 27 new solar farm sites with a combined capacity of 303 MW in March alone.

Conergy connected 105 MW across 12 sites in the first quarter of 2015, while Vogt solar connected eight PV plants totalling 132 MW in the same period. Hive Energy added 123 MW ahead of the deadline, Primrose Solar added 145 MW, SunEdison connected 376 MW and Solarcentury connected 225 MW in the year to the end-March, it said.