Solar panels see big surge in demand

The number of solar panel installations across the UK has seen a twofold increase in a year, as more householders and communities turn to solar energy to generate their own power.

A total of 650,000 installations ranging from large-scale solar farms in fields to schemes on homes, schools and police stations are currently fully functional across Britain.

The number of subsidised solar farms in England has soared from just three in 2012 to 246 in 2014, as well as electricity-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels being used on one in every 50 households across Britain.

Paul Barwell, of the Solar Trade Association, said the popularity of solar is due to falling product costs, easy-to-understand technology and financial benefits – with home owners receiving “feed-in-tariff” payments for the power generated.

As E&T news reported, local residents of Balcombe in West Sussex – the UK village made famous after strong anti-fracking protests, installed the first community-owned solar panel project. A total of 69 panels were set up on the roof of a cow-shed at the nearby family-run Grange Farm as part of a long-term plan to generate enough power to match the entire electricity use of the village.

"There's an ongoing concern about energy price rises, notwithstanding the very recent reductions in price, and people like the idea of being able to generate energy and becoming 'prosumers'," said Barwell.

Although the technology enjoys support from 80 per cent of the public, the development of large-scale solar farms in the English countryside has sparked some debate. An application to install a 100,000-panel solar farm on rare grassland in Dorset has been criticised by wildlife experts, while campaigners warn of the cumulative effect of a conglomerate of solar farms in one area.

The developing industry has been affected by numerous policy changes, including steep cuts to feed-in tariffs for households and the closure of the existing subsidy regime for new solar farms.

However, with consistent government policy, the technology's backers say it could soon become subsidy-free, with solar farms cheaper than gas powered plants in a few years.

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