Latest figures cement Devon and Cornwall as UK solar capital
The Westcountry is the solar panel capital of the country, according to the latest Government statistics.
Devon tops the national table for photovoltaic panels – which convert sunshine into electricity – with 17,564 installations on peoples' homes, producing 61,683kw of energy.
Cornwall is second with 9,584 domestic schemes which generate 35,572kw of electricity. Wiltshire was a distant third with 5,234.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of renewable energy specialists Regen SW, said the high take-up reflected the fact Devon and Cornwall had the best "sunshine resource" in the country.
"A standard photovoltaic system has fallen in cost to around £6,000 to £7,000," he explained. "That might save a total of around £900 per year between people using the electricity they generate and selling the energy they don't.
"On an electricity bill of £1,250 a year that's a pretty radical change, although people will have had to make the outlay up front.
"People in Devon and Cornwall have found that by using these technologies they can offset a very large part of their energy bills for the future."
The figures are based on feed-in tariffs – the cash people receive for selling excess electricity back to the grid – which dropped in value earlier this year. The change sparked a rush of installations which has since slowed.
But Mr Hyman said it was worth homeowners re-examining the figures. He added: "The rates of return are really quite good again and that's because installation prices have dropped.
"Although people are getting paid less subsidy for what they generate, that's been made up for in falling costs, and that's both good for the taxpayer and good for the homeowners.
"With rising energy costs, renewable technology is becoming more and more viable. In a few years we'll probably find they can compete on their own merits, without any subsidy, although we are not there yet."
The quarterly statistics, for the period up to the end of September, were issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
They also showed there were 133 domestic wind turbines in operation in Devon and seven hydro-electric schemes. In Cornwall, there are 112 turbines and 13 small hydro-electric schemes.
Nationally, there are 400,319 solar photovoltaic installations, a rate of 152 for every 10,000 properties. The rate in Devon and Cornwall is 390 schemes per 10,000 homes. The local authority area with the lowest number of solar panels is the City of London with just 5.
Controversy around renewable energy schemes had centred on large wind and solar farms rather than panels on people's roofs.
Earlier this month a DECC report showed almost half (44%) of the UK's large-scale solar energy farms were sited in the South West.
The report – Roadmap to a Brighter Future – hailed the 25-fold increase in so-called solar photovoltaic capacity in just three years.
It also predicted a four-fold increase in solar power from now until 2020, with Energy Minister Greg Barker even contending Britain "can go faster and further".
However, Mr Barker cautioned that new solar installations "must be sensitive to public opinion and mindful of wider environmental and visual impacts".
The fate of four new solar farms was decided by Cornwall councillors at its strategic planning meeting late last week.
Members approved a 49-acre solar park on farmland at St Stephen, near St Austell, and an almost identical size scheme at Ladock, near Truro.
A controversial 40-acre project, which would have seen 25,000 units built on land at Treswarrow Farm, near Port Isaac, was refused because of its location on high-value agricultural land.
Another application for a near 50-acre solar farm at Summercourt, Mid Cornwall, was also rejected by councillors because of its "cumulative impact" and the loss of prime farmland.