UK on track for best year ever for renewable energy 

In the first six months of 2023, records have been shattered for solar panel and heat pump installations across the United Kingdom. The momentum doesn’t stop there; the nation is on track for nearly a quarter of a million homes to install certified renewables by the year’s end. 

Flexible energy demand is critical, both for this winter and for net zero

Leading experts are united in their vision: “The future lies in renewables, not oil and gas.” 

The commitment to clean energy is evident in the data from the official standards body for renewable technologies. More UK households than ever are opting for heat pumps and solar panels, marking an impressive 62% increase compared to last year. The shift towards a greener future is not just a trend but a movement gaining speed. 

MCS data shows that in the first six months of 2023, more than 120,000 certified solar panels, heat pumps and other renewable technologies were installed in UK homes, the highest number ever by this point in the year.   

A quarter of a million households 

The previous record for renewable installations was over a decade ago in 2012, when households raced to get solar panels before cuts to the Feed-In Tariff incentive scheme kicked in.  

June saw 27,791 certified installations recorded on homes and businesses across the UK, bringing the total for the year’s first half to 122,155. 2023 saw more installations in June and in the first half of the year than any previous year. 

2023 is the first year to average more than 20,000 solar panel installations per month, and the first to see more than 3,000 heat pumps installed monthly. Analysts say that with this sustained growth, nearly a quarter of a million households could install renewable energy by the end of this year.   

Over 80% of the installations so far in 2023 have been electricity-generating technologies, driven mainly by the continued growth in solar PV installations. By the end of June, there were 102,797 certified installations of solar PV alone as more households turned to home-grown energy during the cost-of-living crisis. The first half of 2023 saw 82% more installations than the first half of 2022. 

Small-scale renewable energy installations on homes and businesses across the UK now have a total installed capacity of 4GW. The energy demand for the entire country averaged 29.4GW a day in the last year, meaning that the solar panels and wind turbines on peoples’ homes, at peak conditions, could power over 13% of the UK at current. 

A rush to install heat pumps 

The growth in solar has been mirrored by battery storage installation growth since MCS introduced the battery storage installation standard at the end of 2021. Each month of 2023 has been a record month for battery technologies, with installation figures surpassing the month before, totalling over 1,000 batteries going into homes and businesses across the UK in 2023 so far. 

There has been similar success in the growth of low-carbon heating, with average heat pump installations being over 3,000 per month for the first time in 2023. There were 17,920 heat pump installations in the first six months of 2023, a figure only rivalled by a rush to install heat pumps before the end of the Renewable Heat Incentive subsidy scheme in March 2022. 

Heat pump installations in England and Wales have been eligible for £5,000 – £6,000 Government grants since May last year under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. These grants are starting to take effect as heat pump sales steadily grow. In Scotland, consumers can claim a grant of £7,500-£9,000 towards a heat pump installation plus an additional optional loan of £7,500. 

The UK Government has set clear targets to reach 70GW of solar capacity by 2035 and install 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028. The growth in renewable technology across the UK in the last few years is promising, but there is still much further to go.  

Picking up a pace in recruiting installers 

One of the biggest barriers to overcome will be recruiting enough qualified, skilled installers to meet demand. There are now 1,500 certified heat pump installation companies in the UK; estimates are that 50,000 workers will be needed to meet Government targets of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. So far, in 2023, over 850 new contractors have become MCS certified. That’s more contractors than joined the scheme during the whole of 2022, showing the UK is picking up pace in recruiting installers. 

MCS calls for the Government to expand the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and offer higher grant values and more vouchers per year. Further investment in skills and training is also needed to build up a workforce able to respond to the demand for heat pumps. 

MCS is also calling on the Government to mandate solar panels, heat pumps, and battery storage in all new homes from 2025 under the new Future Homes Standard.   

MCS CEO Ian Rippin said: “We are pleased to report that the UK is on track for its strongest year ever for certified small-scale renewable technology installations. The home-grown energy you invest in for your home, or your business plays an ever more crucial role in decarbonising UK buildings. 

Keeping an eye on the future 

“As the cost of energy continues to grow, we are seeing more people turn to renewable technology to generate their own energy and heat at home. We need to continue to push this expansion to meet our shared national ambitions to reach net zero by 2050. More consumers have the confidence to invest in small-scale renewables now than ever, but we have to make that transition even easier. 

“That is why MCS is currently considering feedback from contractors, consumers, and industry experts on proposals to redevelop the scheme and remove some of the complexity in the sector. We continue to grow year-on-year and it is important that we keep our eye on the future and take time to reassess how we support the industry as that progress continues.” 

Speaking on the sustained growth of rooftop solar on UK homes and businesses, Gareth Simkins, senior communications adviser at Solar Energy UK, said: “In the spring, it was looking like we would have something like 215,000 MCS-certified solar installations this year. But that was clearly an underestimate – I would bet on around 250,000 now. Installing solar on your roof is one of the best home improvements you can make, and more and more people realise the financial and environmental benefits.” 

A cost that is fair to all 

Discussing the continued success of heat pump deployment across the UK, Bean Beanland, director of external affairs at the Heat Pump Federation, said: “Whilst there is much to celebrate, there is a tremendous job of work to do to ensure that heat pump technology becomes mainstream over the remainder of this decade.

“Enhancing the collaboration with existing and future installers is critical, both to industry success and to the continued development of policy supportive of the electrification of heat and the complete cessation of combustion in due course.  

“It is essential that the lowest carbon heat becomes the lowest cost heat so that homeowners and landlords can justify the transition away from polluting fossil fuels. This transition will accelerate as consumers appreciate the advances in protection that the revisions to the MCS scheme are designed to deliver.

“If this is coupled to a genuine affordability and future funding package, then households will be able to contribute to climate change mitigation with confidence and at a cost that is fair to all.”