Sunny weather boosts solar power generation, providing estimated 7.8% of UK electricity in daylight hours of solstice.

Britain and Germany have broken records for generating solar electricity in the last few weeks, according to new industry figures. Germany generated over half its electricity demand from solar for the first time ever on 9 June, and the UK, basking in the sunniest weather of summer during the longest days of the year, nearly doubled its 2013 peak solar power output at the solstice weekend. France, Italy, Denmark and other countries are also believed to have generated record amounts in June.

According to UK trade body the Solar Trade association (STA), the total UK installed solar capacity generated from homes, buildings and solar farms is now about 4.7 gigawatts compared to 2.7 gigawatts in July last year.

It is not possible to tell exactly how much solar power was generated in Britain because electricity from small-scale household units is not centrally measured, but the STA estimated on Monday that 3.9% of the UK’s electricity demand was met by solar photovoltaic systems (PV) over the 24 hours of Saturday.

This means solar’s contribution peaked at a record 7.8% of daytime electricity, on 21 June, said the association. “Britain has virtually doubled its capacity in the last year, with 80,000 more installations, including several thousand larger scale commercial ones,” said Ray Noble, a consultant at the UK National Solar Centre. “There are now 530,000 installations in the UK, of which 510,000 are domestic small scale ones.

Last weekend we estimate they generated about 8% of daytime electricity in total,” said Noble. “We think that this is likely to double again within a year. There is nothing to stop it getting to 30-40% of UK electricity at this time of year,” he said. The figures were welcomed by UK energy minister Greg Barker, who was criticised in May for removing subsidies for large-scale solar farms. “We have put ourselves among the world leaders on solar and this ambitious strategy will place us right at the cutting edge.

“There is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy as part of our long term economic plan. “Solar not only benefits the environment, it will see British job creation and deliver the clean and reliable energy supplies that the country needs at the lowest possible cost to consumers.”

Germany, with 1.4m PV systems, generated a peak of 23.1GW hours at lunchtime on Monday 9 June, equivalent to 50.6% of its total electricity need. According to government development agency Germany trade and invest (GTAI), solar power grew 34% in the first five months of 2014 compared to last year. Europe added 10.9GW of PV capacity in 2013, said the European photovoltaic industry association (Epia), bringing the total installed capacity to over 81GW on the continent. “This represents a 16% increase compared to the year before and about 59% of the world’s cumulative photovoltaic capacity,” said a spokesman. “2013 was a record year for the UK, with 1.5GW installed last year. Germany installed 3.3GW, Italy 1.4GW, Romania 1.1GW and Greece 1.04GW.”

But new figures from the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute suggest Europe is no longer the biggest market for solar power. In 2013, says the EPI report, China added “at least” 11.3GW and is now the second largest generator of solar power after Germany, and the US added some 4.8GW, increasing its total capacity by 65% to 12GW.

“PV remains the most rapidly-growing energy technology by a wide margin. Indeed, global PV installations for 2014 should reach at least 40,000 megawatts, expanding world PV capacity by another 30 percent,” says author J Matthew Roney. California now has more than 240,000 small-scale solar installations on commercial and residential roofs across the state that amount to more than 2,200 MW of generation capacity.

The US figure was greatly augmented by 25 new large-scale solar projects including the largest solar plant in the world in the Mojave desert 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Elsewhere, Canada added 440 megawatts to reach 1.2GW in 2013, Mexico nearly doubled its PV capacity to 100MW and is expected to reach 240MW by the end of 2014 and Japan, spurred by the closure of nuclear power plants following Fukushima more than doubled its capacity by adding 6.9GW in 2013. According to the European photovoltaic industry report, solar power is expected to grow 20% a year over the next few years

First published in the Guardian on Monday 23 June 2014