Extra support for solar power

ground solar panels credit mogens sørensen Northern Ireland is due to attract more solar investment despite overcast skies.

Ground-mounted solar power will be the best supported type of renewable energy in Northern Ireland this year after strong lobbying by the industry. The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) is the Executive’s main support mechanism for renewable electricity generation and has been in operation since 2005.

The solar industry had asked the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to increase support for ground-mounted solar photovoltaics above a capacity of 250KW. A 12-week consultation took place in late 2013 and resulted in five favourable responses, three of which were from the industry.

Northern Ireland has 30 per cent less sunlight than Devon. In addition, the province has longer lead-in times for planning approval and grid connection for solar power. Despite these drawbacks, the industry claims that 200MW of installed capacity can be installed by 2017, up from just 5MW of installed capacity as of December 2012. The investment may pay off if done on a sufficiently large scale.

Potential developers have pointed out that while technology costs for solar panels have dropped significantly since 2011, prices stabilised in the latter half of last year thus putting up costs for developers.

DETI agreed that large scale solar PV projects had shorter construction timescales, minimal visual impact and less intermittency than, for example, onshore wind. The absence of noise pollution is also likely to have been a deciding factor.

Officials opted for 1.6 ROCs per MWh to stimulate development in 2014-2015, a major increase from the planned 0.71 level. The solar developers which responded to the consultation were Air River Ltd, BNRG Northern Power and Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd.

Electricity suppliers must produce a certain number of renewable obligation certificates (ROCs) as a proportion of the amount of electricity which they supply to their customers. Funding from the scheme is then paid out as a subsidy to renewable electricity producers.

Mode 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017
Anaerobic digestion 0.5 0.5 0.53 0.56
Ground-mounted solar PV (new) 0.63 1.6 1.5 1.4
Ground-mounted solar PV (old) 0.63 0.71 0.77 0.83
Hydro 1.43 1.43 1.43 1.43
Pyrolysis 0.5 0.5 0.53 0.56
Tidal stream 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5
Wave 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5
Wind (offshore) 0.5 0.5 0.53 0.56
Wind (onshore) 0.53 0.53 0.53 0.53

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