Solar Energy in the UK

Neil Jain
February 12, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: This image shows the CIS Tower in Manchester which was outfitted extensively with photovoltaic panels. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing renewable energy sources, it is impossible to ignore the potential of solar energy. As stated in the name, solar energy is electricity generated by harnessing the energy from the sun. Many places, including the United Kingdom, are bathed with an immense amount of solar energy that could be potentially used as electricity. Looking at Figure 1 there are many regions in the United Kingdom have immense amount of solar potential.

Initial Decline

In early 2016, the government of the United Kingdom announced a 65% reduction in government subsidy to households with solar panels. This initial announcement led to a large decline in the amount of small solar installed. Looking from February to March 2016, there was 21 megawatts, or 21,000,000 watts of small solar installed, after the reduction in the incentive. Looking at the year prior, during that same time in 2015, 81 megawatts, or 81,000,000 watts was installed. [1] This announcement and ensuing drop in solar installation gave a grim outlook on the future of solar energy in the UK. However, soon after, things began to change.

Incredible Increase

The day after the article discussing the article cited above which discussed the decrease in solar energy was published , the United Kingdom had its first day ever when solar produced more than coal. There was no coal-fueled electricity in the United Kingdom for the first time since 1882. This trend did not stop. After that day, April 9, for nearly 6 months between April and September, solar generated almost 7,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, or 7,000,000,000,000 watt hours compared to coal generating about 10% less at 6,300 gigwatt hours, or 6,300,000,000,000 watt hours. [2]


Clearly, solar energy is on the rise in the United Kingdom. While many were originally skeptical and worried about the trends at the beginning of 2016, solar energy far exceeded expectations and the data produced shows it is a viable and efficient alternative to coal. [1] While the UK has started an exciting trend, many other countries still rely heavily on coal. Hopefully, the United Kingdom can serve as an inspiration to those countries, leading us into a more cleaner, more energy-efficient world.

© Neil Jain The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Vaughan, "UK Solar Power Installations Plummet after Government Cuts," The Guardian, 8 Apr 16.

[2] I. Johnston, "Solar Panels Surpass Coal-fired Electricity in Previously 'Unthinkable' Feat," The Independent, 4 Oct 16.