A record year for renewables as rooftop solar installs hit a12-year high 

2023 delivered a record year for the sector with industry data showing a post-subsidy record of smaller-scale PV installs as well as record number of heat pump installations. 

2023 delivered a record year for the sector with a post-subsidy record of smaller-scale PV installs.

Figures from industry standards body MCS revealed that a new post-subsidy annual record of 189,236 smaller-scale (50 kilowatts or less) solar photovoltaic installations was set in 2023. 

The figure was close to the all-time MCS record of 203,129 registered PV installations in 2011, which came at the height of the Feed-in-Tariff scheme as people rushed to take advantage of the level of subsidy before it was cut. 

In 2012, the FiT subsidy for solar was cut by half, from 43.3p per kWh to just 21p per kWh. This reduced returns from around 7% to 4% – almost doubling the payback period for households. 

Installations fell by nearly 90% following the reduction, according to Department of Energy and Climate Change figures, and the scheme closed completely to new applicants in April 2019. 

Commenting on the 2023 figures, Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK, said: “Setting a post-subsidy record of almost 190,000 smaller- scale solar PV installations, and approaching the all-time record, is truly a moment to celebrate. 

“The solar industry is on a roll, particularly as we start to conclude work on the government- industry Solar Taskforce, whose roadmap for delivering 70GW of capacity is due to be published in a couple of months. 

“It is also very gratifying to see such growth in the deployment of heat pumps and battery energy storage systems, which partner so well with rooftop solar energy systems by maximising the savings and decarbonisation that they offer,” he added. 

The number of heat pumps installed across the UK rose to a record high of almost 40,000. An increase of 25% on the previous year, according to the data, it brings the total number of certified heat pumps installed across the country to more than 200,000. 

MCS said there was a late surge in demand for heat pumps after the Government increased the grants available through its boiler upgrade scheme from £5,000 for an air source heat pump to £7,500 in October 2023. Applications for the grant increased by 50% after the introduction of the higher rate, it said. 

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) spokesperson commented: “We are making the switch to heat pumps more affordable, reducing the burden on hardworking families. 

“That’s why we increased the Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant by 50% to £7,500 – making it one of the most generous schemes in Europe. 

“Our approach is working, and this has seen an initial 57% increase in applications.” 

Going for numbers

However, the value of the BUS for ground source is ‘just far too low’ says Bean Beanland, director for growth at the Heat Pump Federation, who described the Government’s clear support for air source as ‘a conscious decision to go for numbers rather than the highest efficiency’ saying: “This has been compounded now that the BUS levels for air and ground are the same.” 

Last year, the number of GSHP installations fell from 3,420 to 2,469, while solar- thermal installations nearly halved, falling from 615 to 311. However, the surge in installs of ASHPs resulted in an overall increase of low carbon heating technologies of 20% year-on-year. 

Additional policies needed

David Cowdrey, director of external affairs at the MCS Foundation, said: “It is very encouraging to see the growth in all renewable energy, and particularly heat pumps. 

“More households than ever are opting for these carbon-free and highly efficient heating systems that are zero emissions at point of use.” 

However, to meet the government’s target of 600,000 by 2028, heat pump installations would have to increase by more than ten-fold over the next four years leading David to call for additional government policies, on top of the higher grants, to achieve “the exponential growth” that is “required now”. 

“Such policies,” he argued, “should include reducing electricity costs to encourage heat pump uptake while tackling fuel poverty.” 

He called on the Government to move social and environmental tariffs from energy bills into general taxation in order to reduce electricity costs and make running heat pumps substantially cheaper than a gas boiler.