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A new ‘solarcoaster’ moment for Scotland 

In the dynamic landscape of Scotland’s solar journey, let’s explore the positive shifts that have unfolded over the past few years. Three years ago, Scotland made headlines by installing about a third of all new solar panels on UK rooftops, impacting the country’s renewable energy scene.

While Scotland’s share of new solar installations compared to the rest of the UK has halved since then, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. According to MCS data up to September this year, Scotland boasts an impressive 20,678 PV installations, each with a capacity of 50kW or less. This is just a hair shy of the 22,197 recorded across the entire country last year, setting the stage for a potential new record-breaking year.

Remarkably, this figure was more than double the number seen in 2019, a testament to the resilience and growth of Scotland’s solar sector, even after the conclusion of feed-in tariffs in 2019. The catalyst for this growth has been the push for newbuild homes to achieve a specific energy performance certificate (EPC) level since 2016. With photovoltaic technology emerging as one of the easiest ways to meet these standards, it has become a common sight on the rooftops of most newbuilds, approaching what one might call a “solar mandate.”

In 2015, only 6% of MCS registrations were in Scotland, but by September 2020, this figure had surged to an impressive 32% of UK-wide installations. Although this proportion has scaled back to 14%, considering Scotland’s population difference and less sunny conditions, it remains a noteworthy achievement.

So why the changes in proportion?
Aside from a blip in 2020, the Scottish solar industry has consistently grown year-on-year since 2018, mirroring the overall trend across the UK driven by the energy price crisis.

Ratio of UK to Scottish MCS PV registrations 2009-2023 | Data source: MCS Dashboard

As we delve into the future, the Scottish solar market faces some challenges, but opportunities abound. Energy prices are predicted to rise again, signalling potential growth. While much of the current market depends on the EPC rule, there’s a silver lining even as this regulation concludes in April with the introduction of the New Build Heat Standard.

This new standard is set to revolutionise the landscape by prohibiting direct emissions heating systems like gas and oil boilers in new residential and commercial buildings. Instead, alternatives such as air source heat pumps will take centre stage, offering significant benefits for carbon emissions and indoor air quality.

Continued support for the sector from the Scottish Government is needed and the recent commitment to a minimum of 4GW and an ambition to 6GW is a great step in the right direction. There’s optimism to be found in the increasing prevalence of solar panels on new Scottish homes. With energy bills expected to remain high, consumer demand and expectations could play a pivotal role in determining the trajectory of Scotland’s domestic solar industry.

In conclusion, while challenges exist, the outlook for Scotland’s solar journey remains positive, with a resilient industry, a growing awareness of renewable energy, and the potential for consumer-driven momentum shaping a bright future for solar power in Scotland.

Read more on Scotland’s recent commitment: Scottish Solar industry welcomes commitment to boost solar energy generation in Scotland 

AES Solar helps the sun shine on LinLith-Go-Solar

Blog by Solar Energy UK member AES Solar

AES Solar’s remarkable Linlith-Go-Solar journey showcases an impressive commitment to community-driven sustainable change.

AES Solar installed around 70kWp of solar PV across five different sites for the community-led energy enterprise. The community energy enterprise project sought to make solar work for the whole town. It emerged as a Linlithgow Community Development Trust (LCDT) initiative in 2018. The project has delivered two successful phases to date.

To fund the installation of solar panels on local sports clubs, LCDT turned to the heart of Linlithgow—the community itself. This endeavour transformed residents into “Citizen Investors”. In partnership with Scottish Communities Finance Ltd, LCDT curated a bond portfolio. This offered secure investments, coupled with social and financial benefits. This enabled the local community to invest in the cause by purchasing these bonds and  we were deemed the installation company up to the task!

The successful fundraising effort led to the commencement of Phase One of the project. The pilot project installed a 15 kWp solar PV system at Linlithgow Rugby Club. This achievement demonstrated a huge appetite and support for renewable energy in the town. As a result, a second ‘Linlith-Go-Solar’ bond was offered. The second Linlith-Go-Solar phase was also partly funded by Local Energy Scotland and the SPEN Green Economy Fund, acknowledging the success of Phase One. This would extend the benefits to other local sports facilities. This included an additional 15 kWp system on the rugby club. Then, an 18 kWp system was installed at Linlithgow Sports and Social Club. Finally, 22 kWp of solar PV was installed at Linlithgow Golf Club across two sites.

The solar PV systems perform effectively, generating cost-effective renewable energy. In turn, this provides an ethical rate of return to the local bondholders, 99% of whom are local people and organisations. Consequently, the energy bills and carbon footprints of the individual clubs have been reduced. Advanced monitoring systems have been implemented in all clubs allowing more control to optimise their energy generation and consumption. The initiative also generates surplus revenue through a bespoke Power Purchase Agreement. By selling solar electricity at a lower rate than the grid, LCDT can invest back into the community. This includes support for education, green spaces and charitable initiatives.

LCDT plans to scale up their ambitions with five additional community groups in four local authority areas. They will do this through a new partnership called Communities-Go-Solar. This in turn will create local jobs and business opportunities for SMEs. They also hope it will provide more youth development opportunities. This will build on the work of their Young Energy Enterprise Group. Youth development is an endeavour at the heart of this evolving social enterprise. These shared values have fostered a strong partnership between Linlith-Go-Solar and AES Solar. You could say it’s a well-suited “match”!

Our partnership with LCDT went beyond the installation process and contractual obligations. This included input to educational webinars and advice for residents. We also sponsored Team Genesis, a team from Linlithgow Academy. Team Genesis competed in the global STEM competition, F1 in Schools. We supplied the solar and battery kit free of charge. This powered the pit stop exhibition lights and display screen assessed in the final. The team from Linlithgow Academy made it to the world finals and would go on to be placed 8th in the world! We also supplied the Young Energy Enterprise Group with technical information for higher education students and facilitated live installation visits.

Fraser Falconer, former Chair of LCDT said: “All three sports clubs where the 5 systems were installed were delighted with the quality and delivery of the systems from the AES Solar operations team, particularly under highly pressured FiT and COVID lockdowns.

AES Solar are always at hand to help and advise, and we have also enjoyed their technical input into educational webinars such as those delivered through the Scottish Ecological Design Association for example. In a nutshell, we hope to work with AES for many years to come as we aim to expand Linlith-Go-Solar to support our Net Zero ambitions for our town. There is no doubt that without great partner companies like AES Solar, this would be impossible.

In the face of climate change and the pressing need to transition towards more sustainable energy sources, community solar projects hold the promise of a brighter future. These projects not only promote renewable energy generation, they also foster a sense of unity and shared responsibility. Not everyone has the resources or a suitable rooftop. Community-owned solar projects overcome these limitations making solar more accessible for all. The financial advantages extend beyond savings, with profits reinvested into the local area.

Solar installers have the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of this movement. We can play a pivotal role in the success of community solar projects. Our expertise can turn aspirations of sustainability into reality. We not only contribute to the environment but also to the growth of the areas we operate in. And the opportunity to engage goes beyond the completed installation, in the form of educational outreach. This increased awareness can encourage broader adoption of sustainable practices inspiring individuals to become advocates for renewable energy.

AES Solar are incredibly enthusiastic about the potential of community solar projects. We are immediately drawn to projects that strive to make communities a more attractive, sustainable and vibrant place to live and work. It’s not too far off what we are trying to achieve in Forres where we call home and the wider region of Moray! This partnership not only illuminated Linlith-Go-Solar; it also serves as a guiding light for similar ventures, and we were delighted to be involved.

About the author AES Solar

Established in 1979, AES Solar was the first manufacturer of solar thermal collectors in Western Europe. Since then AES have dedicated themselves to being true solar experts, focussing on nothing other than improving the ways in which they harness the power of the sun as a sustainable energy source for their customers.

AES Solar was recently awarded The Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development 2022 and is now celebrating their 45th year, stating “we take great pride in everything we have accomplished for our customers and our community so far, and we will continue to strive to lead the solar industry while exceeding our Corporate Social Responsibility”

For solar to go big in the UK we first need to bust some myths

This post is by Gareth Simkins, senior communications adviser at Solar Energy UK.

Solar panels shut down in the heat. Birds and bats think they are water and fly into them. The industry needs new subsidies. People hate solar farms and they destroy habitats.

As senior communications adviser for the trade association Solar Energy UK, those are just a few of the well-worn myths that I have heard in the press, on social media and even in parliament lately.

Last month, the Telegraph blamed solar panels wilting in a heatwave for a coal-fired power station being reactivated. The story was published even after I provided them with technical data sheets showing that while photovoltaic performance does dip marginally in the heat, the long sunny days of summer compensates for this. Such myths were later spread on social media by the likes of Toby Young, Andrew Neil and DUP MP Sammy Wilson.

Fortunately, the BBC published a far more accurate story in response, confirming that the real reason was a grid connection to Norway failing, a nuclear power station being down for maintenance and increased demand for air conditioning.

Solar is the most popular source of energy among the public

Solar remains the most popular form of energy generation, according to the Government’s own Public Attitudes Tracker. A recent survey commissioned by our friends at RenewableUK found that investing in renewables was backed by 77 percent of respondents, even rising to 84 percent among Conservative voters in particular. This is more support than for any of Rishi Sunak’s ‘five pledges’ and clearly should make for sober reading for those who pressing to ‘ditch the green stuff’.

People living near solar farms back them to a far greater degree than most would think, according to new research published today. A survey of attitudes to solar power, produced by Copper Consultancy, found that 94 percent of people in the vicinity of an existing, proposed or under construction solar farm had either supportive or, at the very least, neutral attitudes to the sector. In fact, two fifths strongly supported the development of the sector, with only one percent strongly opposed, according to their findings.

But the survey found that people mistakenly think that there is limited local support for solar farms. Local residents tend to become more supportive over time. The fear of the new ultimately fades.

As Chris Hewett, Solar Energy UK’s chief executive, said: “It is clear that attacking solar farms is far from the vote winner some politicians might think it is, so Rishi Sunak’s administration is wise to be far more positive about solar farms than his predecessors. It is only a tiny, if vocal, minority that have given some politicians the impression that solar farms are unpopular”.

But myths are being perpetuated in parliament

Further myths were exercised during a recent parliamentary debate on planning and solar policy, in which Conservative MP Dr Caroline Johnson said, “Birds and bats that mistake glass for water can be killed when they land on the hot panels.”

The only shred of evidence for this that I could find related to concentrated solar power, an entirely different technology that uses reflected heat to drive a steam turbine, quite unlike photovoltaic technology.

“Worst of all, the presence of solar panels limits the potential for biodiversity due to the persistent shadow cast and the set channels created by rainwater run-off without proper dispersal,” she added.

A report that we published recently proves that concerns about perceived biodiversity loss are also unfounded. In conjunction with Lancaster University and consultancies Clarkson & Woods and Wychwood Biodiversity, we’ve shown that well designed and well maintained solar farms, for example using wildflower seed mixes, can make significant contributions to addressing the UK’s chronic loss of natural habitat.

An average of 25 species of bird were found across the 37 sites surveyed, including some red-listed ones such as linnets, yellowhammers and spotted flycatchers. Insects benefited from what can be a “significant resource” of nectar, says the report, with 32 species of butterflies and moth, 11 species of bee and various dragonflies, grasshoppers, wasps and beetles found among the sites.

Solar will play an important role in helping farmers to diversify from monoculture so that we can rewild vast swathes of the UK countryside.

The grid is the biggest issue

Copper Consultancy’s report reveals a further misconception: only seven percent of respondents understood that solar farms are located to ensure access to the electricity grid.

The UK’s electricity networks are often unable to accept large-scale connections without upgrades, Waiting times can extend for many years, even into the 2040s. Fortunately, the Government, Ofgem and the Energy Networks Association have acknowledged how much of a drag this is on the economy, lowering the cost of living and net zero.

But comments made by Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh during the recent parliamentary debate illustrate the cavernous knowledge gap that exists about grid issues and the competitiveness of solar technology, even among policymakers. He called for, “a new subsidy regime whereby if someone builds a massive warehouse, it is in their benefit to put a solar panel on top of it.”

The solar industry has neither the need nor desire for subsidies, which ended in 2019. In fact, more small-scale rooftop installations are expected this year than ever before, driven by the energy price crisis. It is solely the lack of grid connectivity that is holding back the commercial scale sector, as a UK Warehousing Association report underlined last year. The association concluded that the potential for warehouse roofs alone amounts to 15 gigawatts, which is double the UK’s current overall solar capacity.

So, if you hear someone repeating these misconceptions about solar power, even if it’s your local MP, we’re here to help with the facts.

This blog was originally published by the Green Alliance.

Join the thriving UK Solar Industry

As the world shifts towards a low-carbon future, the demand for clean energy sources is increasing. One of the fastest-growing areas of renewable energy is solar power, which has seen tremendous growth in recent years.  

As a thriving sector, Solar’s potential has been recognised by the Mayor of London, who has created the ‘Solar Skills London’ program to help support residents in finding rewarding careers in this industry.  

Moreover, the UK Government’s recent paper ‘Powering Up Britain’ references Solar Energy UK’s work on the ‘bootcamps’ being run under the Solar Skills London project as part of a broader initiative to address workforce skills needs in key low carbon sectors – this will feed into the Government’s forthcoming Net Zero Skills and Workforce Action Plan.  

But did you know by 2035, the solar industry is expected to support around 60,000 jobs in the UK? According to our latest data, that’s up from around 7,000 in 2020 – representing a significant increase in demand for skilled workers in the sector. 

Solar Energy UK analysis

So, if you are looking at career paths to explore, the solar industry has many, depending on your strengths and interests. You can enter the sector straight from school, study to become an electrician or specialise in solar by joining a solar company as an apprentice. You could also study for a degree in a relevant subject, such as electrical and electronic engineering or an architect degree apprenticeship. As part of its huge job diversity, the industry also offers opportunities for people with legal, human resources, computer science skills, communications and marketing, among others. 

To continue to provide valuable information and resources to young individuals passionate about positively impacting the environment, Solar Energy UK and the Mayor of London have put together a Careers Booklet that provides an overview of the benefits of a career in Solar, including information on job opportunities, career growth, and industry trends. 

We believe a career in Solar can be an exciting way to make a difference and help meet the growing demand for clean energy, and our ‘Be Part of A Brighter Future’ Careers Booklet is an excellent way to get started. 

As the solar industry continues to grow, so will the opportunities for skilled workers in the sector. So why not join the clean energy revolution and become a part of this exciting industry today? 

More regulation coming to battery energy storage

10 January 2024

DEFRA is planning to bring battery energy storage systems (BESS) into the environmental permitting regime. However, some operators may be unaware that they may be subject to it already, putting themselves in potential legal jeopardy.

For those unaware of the system, the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR, or more formally The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016) integrate a series of disparate environmental controls, covering such things as groundwater discharges and industrial emissions, into a cohesive whole. This means that charges, application forms, inspections, and such all follow the same format.

The regulations are policed by the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales or local authorities for less hazardous sites. Similar rules are enforced under the Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018 (EAR).

Operating an installation without a permit or breaching one in force is a criminal offence and liable to a potentially hefty fine or civil penalty. However, regulators may take a kinder view if the failure is confessed to them.

There have been hints about the plan for battery storage for some time. It was mentioned in an answer to a parliamentary question in October and briefly in the disappointing Battery Strategy, not to mention during the passage of the Energy Bill. But it was raised before then in parliament by Conservative MP for Basingstoke Dame Maria Miller, who put forward her Lithium-ion Battery Storage (Fire Safety and Environmental Permits) Bill in September 2022.

Her action should be seen more as a lobbying effort than a genuine attempt to change the law – private member’s bills rarely reach the statute book. It would have made local fire services, the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive statutory consultees for seeking planning permission for lithium-ion BESS, made them subject to the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2015 and the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 (known as COMAH), plus brought them within environmental permitting.

Miller’s focus was on fire risk: “The only way to stop a battery fire is to cool it down with a constant stream of water and wait for the fire to go out, which might take days, creating huge quantities of water containing highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid and copper oxide—by-products of battery fires. These toxic chemicals cannot be allowed to seep into watercourses, because they would cause immense environmental damage,” she told the Commons.

Meanwhile, “Planning permission is being granted near nurseries, hospitals, houses, rivers and even industrial chemical manufacturing plants. In my constituency, a battery facility has been granted planning permission on Basing Fen, metres away from the headwaters of the River Loddon, close to a hospital and near the town centre,” she said.

Whether these claims are valid or otherwise, DEFRA has considered the bill, and change is coming.

Consultation on integrating BESS into environmental permitting will arrive later this year, according to the Department’s Air Quality and Industrial Emissions Team. Its view is that permitting is the most appropriate option, rather than COMAH or development planning energy infrastructure, “which could post environmental/health risks generally falls under permitting,” planning lacks compliance and enforcement mechanisms and batteries “do not fit within the established scope of COMAH.”

Bringing BESS within permitting would also ensure that costs are clear. Expectations are that installations would run under standard rules permits – simpler and cheaper than bespoke permits – setting universal rules on the likes of location, temperature control, limiting inventory, appropriate disposal at end-of-life, fire plans and firewater containment. The latter may imply the need for retroactive bunding, firewater storage and floodgates, which would indicate a need to seek planning permission.

A DEFRA presentation added that requirements on the nature of the batteries themselves and their casings may also be added.

A stakeholder group will be established soon, which will, of course, have input from Solar Energy UK. As of yet, no specific dates have been set for meetings, nor for when BESS regulation will go live.

The group will help work out certain aspects ahead of the consultation, such as if only lithium-ion batteries should be regulated, what capacity threshold should apply and who should be the regulator: the Environment Agency or local authorities? Civil servants also added that they intend to seek agreement to extend the measures across the UK, rather than have them apply to England alone.

Backup generators

As mentioned earlier, certain BESS sites are – or should be – subject to environmental regulation already. The reason is that some BESS sites operate backup generators, emissions from which may be regulated, though not every operator is aware of this.

Data centre operators found themselves in the same position a few years ago. Due to their vast electricity demands and need for extreme reliability, they have extensive banks of diesel generators, capable of generating tens of megawatts. Even though these are rarely used beyond occasional testing, their capacity puts them firmly within the rules that apply to full-blown power stations.

One of the highlights of my previous career as an environmental journalist was proving that even GCHQ – reputed to run one of the largest data centres in the country – fell foul of the law, as I explained to the Guardian five years ago.

The legal position is complex, but essentially:

  • Any combustion installation with an aggregated thermal input (not electrical output) of over 50MW is subject to the EU-derived Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regime, as implemented in the EPR in England and Wales and EAR in Scotland. These are regulated by the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and SEPA.
  • Individual compression ignition (i.e. diesel) engines with a thermal input over 20MW and under 50MW are subject to the Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC, aka ‘Part B’) regime, again under EPR. These are regulated by local authorities in England and Wales and by SEPA in Scotland.
  • Specific limits on emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust may also apply to installations with a thermal input of 1-50MW, as specified in the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 and the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017. These ‘medium combustion plants’ (MCPs) are regulated by the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales. Confusingly, LAPPC and MCP rules may apply in parallel, the strictest taking precedence.
  • MCPs may either need a permit already or may not need to make a lighter-touch registration until 30 June 2028, depending on various factors including, capacity and when the MCP was set up.
  • Whitehall guidance on the MCP regime is available here, while SEPA has its own guidance.
New Scottish Building Regulations Torpedo a Solar Success Story

30 January, 2024

Blog by Solar Energy UK member Stuart Elmes founder and Chief Executive of Viridian Solar accessed via The Solar Blogger

On December 22nd 2023 Scottish Government published an update to the Building Standards Technical Handbook which will apply to new building sites where a building warrant is applied for after April 1st 2024.

The update to the handbook was made to implement the New Build Heat Standard which bans the use of ‘Direct Emission Heating Systems’ – gas or oil boilers in plain English – from newly built homes and some conversions of existing properties. Instead, developers must now choose from a heat pump, direct electric heating (storage heaters or infrared panels) and connecting to a heat network (if available).

In 2015 Scottish Government introduced solar PV into its building regulations – well ahead of England which was to take until 2021 to catch up. This has resulted in a thriving solar industry in Scotland, installing far more solar to domestic properties per head of population than the rest of the UK (see my earlier blog: How Progressive Building Regulations Made Scotland a Solar Powerhouse).

Unfortunately, Scottish Government has ignored repeated warnings from Solar Energy Scotland that the introduction of the New Build Heat Standard without an accompanying adjustment to the Building Standards could threaten the success story of Scottish solar.

Working in Silos
To understand how the new regulations could harm the solar industry in Scotland we need a little background on how the building regulations work. The regulations are not prescriptive, they aim to give the designer freedom to choose how to build the house – instead of defining each and every building element, the set a level of energy performance that the house must achieve.

A developer must show that the house they are planning to build uses no more energy than a home of the same size and shape built according to a defined specification called the Notional House Specification. (For more details on how this works see my earlier post on Energy in Building Regulations). Over time the regulations have made new homes more and more energy efficient by changing the Notional House Specification to have a better and better energy performance.

The last major review of Building Regulations in Scotland (in 2021) introduced two specifications for the notional house – one for homes with heating by a gas boiler, the second for a house with a heat pump.

In order to ‘nudge’ developers towards using more heat pumps and away from polluting gas boilers the specification with the heat pump included a number of cost-saving relaxations in other areas – notably the omission of solar PV panels which were included in the gas heating specification.

Although it might have been an admirable intention to nudge developers towards heat pumps (it didn’t work by the way – gas boiler and solar remained the preferred design choice), it was clear that if the New Build Heat Standard was to come in without changing the notional house specification at the same time, then the only legal specification becomes the one with the heat pump, and solar would be dropped from the notional house in Scotland for the first time since 2015.

Unfortunately we were talking to two different sets of officials from Scottish Government – one working on the building regulations and the other working on the New Build Heat Standard. Our concerns were ignored. The latest regulations have enacted the boiler ban and left the Notional House Specification unchanged.

The Impact on Solar for New Homes in Scotland
This unwelcome development is not necessarily all bad news for solar.

First of all, housebuilders may choose to combine solar PV with a heat pump in their designs, not least as a way of keeping a lid on energy bills for their customers. This change to the building regulations is probably the first ever update to result in higher bills for consumers. Electricity costs far more than gas does – and the enhanced efficiency of heat pumps does not make up for the difference. Developers can offset this rise in bills by keeping solar in their design.

Secondly, solar has become a common sight in new developments across Scotland and customers have come to expect it on new homes and increasingly see energy efficiency as a reason to buy new rather than in the general housing market.

Third the gas boiler plus PV specification still applies to homes with direct electric heating. Developers may explore this option, adding better insulation to the point where space heating demand is reduced to an absolute minimum – especially for smaller properties.

Finally, since new regulations only come into force from the point of applying for a building warrant it is likely to take a year or so before sites begin construction under the new regulations, and 2-3 years before the majority new homes being built are to the new standard. What could change in this time? Here are some thoughts:

  • A new Future Homes Standard for England is embracing smart energy, time of use electricity tariffs, energy storage and solar generation with a new half-hourly calculation method, and is beginning to make the Scottish approach look rather passé. A strong Future Homes standard specification with heat pump and solar will encourage the Scottish Government to surpass it.
  • Who knows how far battery storage, solar and smart energy technology will developed by this time? If we were to go back four years, battery storage was only for dedicated enthusiasts and off-grid applications – now it’s included with around half of all retrofit solar installations. The performance and cost of solar and energy storage continues to make the technology more widely applicable and attractive. More recent innovations such as time of use tariffs and electric vehicle to grid charging will only add to the advantages of having solar on your home

Whether the omission of solar PV from the notional house specification in Scottish building regulations slows the adoption of solar PV in Scotland remains to be seen.  What is clear is that, at worst, it will only temporarily slow its rise.

Scotland’s Renewable Leadership: Unravelling the Complexities of Decarbonisation

Scotland is a climate leader in many respects, with among the most demanding net zero ambitions in the world. In 2011, Scottish Government set a target of generating the equivalent of 100% of energy demand by 2020; final figures showed that 98.6% of electricity used in Scotland was from renewable sources.[1] Done and dusted right? A 100% renewable electricity system that paves the way for the electrification of heat and transport – just plug in and go. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. Figures from 2021 (the most recent year figures are available) show that about 19% of Scottish electricity consumption came from renewable sources, and that 57% of all electricity generated in Scotland was from renewable sources, with 88.1% generated by low carbon sources.[2]

These figures are still impressive, and significantly higher than England and Wales. Scotland has led the way in renewable generation in the UK and continues to add to its growing portfolio of renewable projects. However, resting on the laurels of these figures won’t decarbonise the electricity grid, nor will it decarbonise heat and transport.

Scotland must generate more electricity from renewable sources and consume that electricity locally -at the moment 98.6% gross electricity consumption may be from renewable sources but the key thing to focus on in that statistic is gross, meaning total generation minus net exports. Scotland exports a lot of renewable energy from all its renewable generators, both on and offshore. Scottish consumers and businesses buy electricity from a wide range of electricity suppliers, who buy electricity from a wide range of sources, some of which are renewable, and based in Scotland, and some of which are not. This means that not all the renewable electricity generated in Scotland is consumed here, and not all electricity consumed in Scotland is renewable. So connecting a heat pump or an EV charger to a home or business does not automatically mean that home or business is only consuming renewable energy.

One way to ensure that homes and businesses are consuming only renewable energy? Putting generation directly on their roof via solar energy. Solar is the only “behind the meter” renewable technology, which basically means the only form of generation that consumers and businesses can just use, and don’t need to buy from a supplier. Solar works great with heat pumps, saving homeowners money and carbon emissions. Solar Energy Scotland analysis shows that in a typical heat pump-heated Scottish home, the installation of a solar system would reduce heating bills would by £961 per year and save 34.1 tonnes of carbon across the system’s lifetime. Solar is scalable and versatile, so it can also help with commercial and industrial heat and electricity needs.

Solar is also vital from a whole system perspective. It’s not only our homes, cars, and businesses that will have to change for net zero. Our entire electricity grid must become more flexible as it transitions from relying on coal power stations to being 100% renewable and low carbon. Regulations have been designed for centralised one-way power flows – power stations make power when it’s needed and can be turned up or down as needed to cope with how much electricity is being demanded at any given time. Renewables work a bit differently, in that the wind doesn’t blow harder or the sun doesn’t shine more brightly when everyone switches their kettle on, so generation isn’t as predictably balanced as it used to be. This is called intermittency and can be partly addressed by incorporating more battery storage into our system, but as more and more electricity is generated from renewables, the electricity grid is going to have to adapt.

In addition to more battery storage, more variation in renewable energy sources can help stabilise the electricity grid. It may seem inconsistent to introduce more variation to achieve more stability, but logically it makes sense: the sun tends to shine more when it’s less windy, and the wind blows harder when there is less sunlight. On the days when it’s windy and sunny, battery storage can come to the rescue, storing power for those rare Scottish nights when everything is still.

Scotland is a global climate leader, and the progress made to decarbonise electricity should certainly be praised. However, there is more work to do, and more solar to install, to achieve the final goal of a 100% renewable electricity grid that will enable the electrification of heat and transport. Solar has a big role to play in this transition, both as a behind the meter technology and as a utility scale generator. It’s a natural partner to heat pumps, wind farms, and battery storage systems, and Scotland can’t reach net zero without it.

[1] Energy Statistics for Scotland Q3 2021 Figures

[2] Scottish Energy Statistics Hub

Shaping Scotland’s Sustainable Future

As the world faces the urgent challenge of combating climate change, countries worldwide seek innovative ways to transition to sustainable energy sources. To accelerate the adoption of solar technologies and pave the way for an affordable and sustainable transition to low-carbon heating, Solar Energy Scotland has proposed a set of comprehensive policy recommendations to the Scottish Government.

In this blog, we will delve into each recommendation and explore their potential impact on Scotland’s journey towards a greener future.

Empowering Consumers with Affordable Solar-PV and Heat Pumps:

The first recommendation is to add solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to the heat pump specification in the new building regulations. This move will facilitate an affordable transition to low-carbon heating for Scottish consumers. By combining solar PV with heat pumps, households can benefit from a more energy-efficient and sustainable heating solution.

Solar PV systems harness the power of sunlight to generate electricity, while heat pumps extract heat from the air, ground, or water to warm homes and buildings. By integrating the two technologies, homeowners can maximise their energy savings and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The Scottish Government’s adoption of this recommendation would drive the uptake of solar PV and heat pumps and create new economic opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

Making Solar Technologies Integral to Low and Zero-Emission Heating Systems:

Solar Energy Scotland emphasises the inclusion of solar technologies as primary or secondary measures in low and zero-emission heating systems. The Government can encourage a more diversified and resilient energy landscape by doing so. Solar energy is a readily available and sustainable resource and integrating it into various heating systems would enhance their efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.

 

Moreover, promoting solar technologies as part of low and zero-emission heating systems can foster innovation in the renewable energy sector. This integration can open doors to research and development, leading to more efficient and cost-effective solar solutions tailored to Scottish households and businesses’ unique needs.

Expanding Incentives for Onsite Renewable Heat Technologies:

Solar Energy Scotland proposes expanding onsite renewable heat technologies incentives until at least 2030. This includes the continuation and enhancement of the Home Energy Scotland loan scheme and broadening the criteria for the Warmer Homes Scotland initiative. Such incentives are crucial in motivating private homeowners to invest in renewable energy solutions.

The Home Energy Scotland loan scheme provides financial support to homeowners looking to install renewable energy systems, including solar panels and heat pumps. Expanding this scheme would make it more accessible to a broader range of consumers, encouraging greater adoption of sustainable technologies.

Similarly, the Warmer Homes Scotland initiative aims to improve home energy efficiency, reducing fuel poverty and emissions. By widening the criteria for this program, more households can benefit from solar energy installations and other renewable technologies, ultimately contributing to Scotland’s net-zero targets and alleviating energy-related financial burdens for vulnerable communities.

Integrating Solar Energy Policies into Long-term Strategies:

Solar Energy Scotland urges the Scottish Government to incorporate their policy recommendations concerning fuel poverty and net-zero targets into the long-term strategies under development. These include the Heat in Buildings Strategy and the Scottish Building Regulations. Aligning solar energy policies with these strategies will ensure a more cohesive and comprehensive approach to achieving sustainability goals.

The Heat in Buildings Strategy is vital in decarbonising the heating sector, and integrating solar energy will strengthen its impact. Furthermore, updating the Scottish Building Regulations to include solar-friendly provisions will catalyse the integration of solar technologies into new constructions and renovations. As Scotland stands at a pivotal moment in shaping its sustainable future, embracing these policy recommendations can have far-reaching implications in accelerating the adoption of solar technologies, promoting low-carbon heating systems, and advancing the nation’s progress towards a greener and more resilient energy landscape. By enabling an affordable transition to renewable energy sources, empowering consumers, and aligning long-term strategies, Scotland can set a powerful example for other nations to follow in the fight against climate change.

 

Reference: The Value of Solar Heat in Scotland 2022

Solar and Biodiversity: Tackling Ecological Challenges and Embracing Opportunities 

Our planet is grappling with two intertwined ecological crises: climate change and biodiversity loss. In recent decades, the decline of insect populations has been shockingly rapid, followed by dwindling numbers of birds and mammals at an unprecedented rate. 

These alarming trends can be attributed to habitat loss and the detrimental impact of pesticides and fertilisers. However, amidst these storm clouds of environmental decline, two rays of hope shine brightly: the rapid acceleration of clean energy sources, led by solar and wind, and the growing momentum behind the nature recovery agenda and the benefits of rewilding.  

This blog explores the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of solar energy and nature shedding light on how well-managed solar farms can contribute to climate and nature recovery. 

Promoting Climate ad Nature Recovery
Solar farms, if managed responsibly, have the potential to make significant contributions to climate recovery and the restoration of nature. Each kilowatt-hour of solar power produced in the UK effectively reduces the need for gas-fired power stations. Furthermore, when land is set aside from intensive agriculture and managed for nature recovery alongside solar farms, it creates enhanced habitats for wildflowers, pollinators, butterflies, and various bird and mammal populations. 

Progress in the Solar Industry
Over the years, the solar industry has diligently built a foundation of good practices and accumulated evidence. In 2014, the UK National Solar Centre produced a best practice guide for land management, and many solar farms incorporated Local Environment Management Plans as part of their planning permission. In 2019, Solar Energy UK (SEUK) published a report showcasing case studies where natural capital was enhanced through initiatives such as wildflower meadows, hedgerows, flood prevention, and wetland features. SEUK also established a Natural Capital Working Group, collaborating with esteemed institutions like Lancaster University, Clarkson Woods, and Wychwood Biodiversity. In 2022, the trade association also published a Natural Capital Best Practice Guide and a standard ecological assessment to underpin an annual national ecological survey – the initial survey results, published in 2023, provide promising insights into the positive impact of solar farms on nature. 

Survey Findings
The survey covered 37 individual sites, representing approximately 10% of all solar farms in the UK by area, encompassing around 3,500 acres. Here are some noteworthy findings: 

  • Plant Species Diversity: On average, the surveyed sites exhibited 32 different plant species, with the most diverse site boasting 52 species. 
  • Invertebrate Species: The survey identified 66 different invertebrate species, including 11 types of bees and 32 types of butterflies and moths. Notably, nine sites had the small heath butterfly, a species of conservation concern. 
  • Bird Species: Across all the solar farms, 91 different bird species were identified, including 20 red-listed and 26 amber-listed species. 
  • Mammals: Brown hares were spotted on 24% of the surveyed sites. 

Seizing Opportunities
Still, the challenges we face in addressing the twin ecological crises require us to seize opportunities and work together for a sustainable future. Here are some avenues for positive change: 

  • Increasing Land for Solar and Nature Recovery: Currently, solar energy in the UK utilises 45,000 acres of land, but this capacity could grow fivefold by 2035 to 225,000 acres. Expanding the land under management for solar and nature recovery is a significant opportunity. 
  • Joining Up Habitats for Insects and Birds: Solar farms located across the country can play a vital role in creating wildlife corridors alongside protected areas and nature-friendly farming practices, facilitating the movement and conservation of insect and bird populations. 
  • Advancing Land Management Practices: Through organisations like Solar Energy UK, the solar industry is committed to promoting good land management practices. Raising awareness, sharing best practices, and collaborating with universities and biodiversity experts are essential steps toward improving land management in the industry. Innovative techniques like drone surveys can further support conservation efforts. 
  • Potential Revenue Streams for Landowners and Managers: Rewarding multi-purpose land use through post-Brexit land use support policies can provide additional revenue streams for rural areas. Increased pollinator populations benefit honey production and support fruit farming and other crops reliant on natural pollination. 
  • Carbon Storage and Soil Improvement: Solar farms improve carbon storage and soil. Research is underway to explore the carbon sequestration benefits of leaving the soil untouched for extended periods, as practised in solar farms. 

Addressing Challenges
While embracing the opportunities, we must overcome several challenges to ensure the success of solar farms in promoting nature recovery and combating climate change, including: 

  • Public Perception and Media Misconceptions: Addressing concerns about potential harm to local wildlife is crucial. Some groups prioritise preserving rural landscapes over nature recovery and the local economy. Educating the public about the actual benefits of solar farms and dispelling misconceptions is essential. 
  • Myths and Misinformation: Solar farms may become targets of misinformation campaigns and climate change denial. Combating myths and false narratives through accurate information and engaging with the public and developers is vital. 
  • Balancing Energy Maximization with Nature-Sensitive Land Management: The solar industry must ensure that best practices are followed, incorporating nature into site designs and allowing for adaptable land management strategies. Engaging local communities, facilitating school visits, and involving nature conservation groups can foster positive relationships and responsible land management. 

Join Us in Creating a Sustainable Future
To create a sustainable future, we need collective efforts and collaboration. Here’s how you can contribute: 

  • Stay informed about the latest developments in the solar industry and nature recovery efforts. 
  • Engage with developers when a solar farm is proposed in your area. Ask about their land management practices and commitment to promoting nature recovery. 
  • Share best practice guides and evidence-based reports to raise awareness and promote responsible land management. 
  • Foster partnerships with local nature conservation groups and support community integration of solar farms. 

Together, we can harness the power of solar energy while prioritising nature recovery, paving the way for a sustainable and biodiverse future.  

Solar farms and songbirds: could skylarks benefit from ground mounted solar?

In spring, the liquid warbling song of the skylark is a welcome signal of warm, summer days ahead and is a ubiquitous feature of the UK countryside. However, this emblematic sound is at risk of disappearing, given declining skylark numbers in recent decades. Skylarks are red listed under the Birds of Conservation Concern framework and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have reported declines of 63% across England during the period 1967 – 2016. Agricultural intensification is the main driver of skylark declines and has negatively impacted many ground nesting species reliant on farmland habitat. Skylarks need seeds, vegetation, and insects to feed on and suitable areas to nest to survive and reproduce successfully. However, increasingly intensive management practices and the transition from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops reduces their food supply and creates less favourable nesting conditions.

Skylarks can be found on agricultural land which is also suitable for solar farms and consequently, there is concern surrounding potential impacts. Preferring to nest in open fields, away from tall structures, skylarks need clear sight lines in order to spot predators. The presence of solar arrays is therefore not conducive to nesting by skylarks.

But whilst confirmed nesting on solar farms has, to date, not been recorded, skylarks foraging for their summer staple of invertebrates such as spiders have been observed. Ecological consultancy reports state that skylarks were present on 50% of solar farms monitored in 2019 and on 31% of sites in 2020, including several foraging birds. Unpublished data collated by Solar Energy UK from more than thirty solar farms in 2022 support these observations, with skylarks present on 51% of sites surveyed, including some exhibiting foraging behaviour. It is thought that appropriately managed solar farms which emphasise grassland diversity could act as optimal foraging habitat, and in turn improve outcomes for off-site nests in

territories adjacent to solar farms. Some of the skylarks were also observed singing from solar panels to advertise a territory. But in the absence of any confirmed nests, this suggests there may be a ‘nest site fidelity’ effect whereby birds return to old territories in subsequent years, delaying eventual displacement. At present, the most effective mitigation option is most likely the enhancement of undeveloped grassland and arable land to increase the carrying capacity and receive a proportion of displaced territories. A reversion to set-aside or fallow land is likely to be best, but other measures which don’t require removal of land from productive cultivation also exist. These include the reversion from winter sown cereals to spring sown cereals (to delay the point at which vegetation becomes too tall for nesting), or a switch to organic practices, both of which substantially improve numbers of nesting attempts and breeding success, although a greater hectarage may be necessary. Wider uncultivated arable margins also lead to a similar improvement in foraging potential. Often misunderstood, ‘Skylark plots’ (undrilled patches within cropland measuring 5x5m at a rate of 2 per hectare) break up arable monocultures and increase invertebrate prey abundance but they do not provide nesting habitat in themselves. Therefore, they are a worthwhile enhancement to suitably large and open mitigation fields but are unlikely to serve any nesting purpose within the developed area of a solar farm.

Despite observations of skylarks using solar farms, more robust evidence describing the impacts of solar farms on skylark foraging and nesting behaviour is needed. Researchers at Lancaster University are trying to address this knowledge gap, by examining how skylarks use solar farms, if and where nesting occurs and the impacts of solar farm management types. The results will help to inform management best practice guidance and maximise solar farm potential and improve mitigation options when protecting this threatened species. A growing focus on natural capital and biodiversity monitoring across the solar industry will also enable crucial data to be collected and analysed, building up the picture of how skylarks, other ground nesting birds such as yellow wagtail and meadow pipit and biodiversity more broadly use solar farms as a habitat.

For more information about managing solar farms for skylarks and wider biodiversity, see the Solar Energy UK Natural Capital Best Practice Guidance.

To find out more about monitoring, see A Standardised Approach to Monitoring Biodiversity on Solar Farms. Standardised monitoring took place across solar farms in 2022 and the results will be published by Solar Energy UK this spring.

The missing part of the Future Homes Standard: Energy Storage

Blog by Solar Energy UK member GivEnergy.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Future Homes Standard becoming mandatory in 2025. The initiative sets out minimum energy efficiency requirements for all new homes built in England – with a view to improving both the economy and sustainability of home energy usage.

Unfortunately, the Future Homes Standard has a glaring omission. While factors such as insulation, air tightness, and low-carbon heating systems are (quite rightly) addressed – the directive fails to consider the pivotal role of energy storage.

This oversight comes to the detriment of both the billpayer and the UK’s net-zero emissions target. By missing energy storage, the Future Homes Standard is missing a key opportunity to make further efficiency gains.

What is the Future Homes Standard?

The Future Homes Standard (FHS) is a government directive that seeks to decarbonise new homes. As part of its bid to improve home energy efficiency, the initiative also reduces energy bills for the homeowner – helping ease the country’s mounting fuel poverty concerns.

The FHS primarily focuses on three key areas:

· Improving heating

· Improving hot water systems

· Reducing heat waste

So, it includes rules on building fabrics, insulation levels, triple glazing standards, ventilation rates, and low-carbon heating. (Heat pumps or solar thermal systems, for instance.) The FHS also seeks to mitigate overheating, stating that any potential overheating issues should be identified at the design and pre-construction stage.

Combined, then, these rules ensure that no new home built under the Future Homes Standard will be reliant on fossil fuels. This heightened efficiency is undoubtedly a great step – and one that we welcome. Yet the fact remains that it is a step too small.

To meet its ambitious emissions reduction targets, the government must stop overlooking battery storage. As an absolute minimum, it needs to integrate adequate energy storage provisions into the Future Homes Standard.

The role of energy storage

Battery storage technology has advanced significantly in recent years. It now represents a key component of any low-carbon energy system. Simply, without a storage battery, even so-called “efficient” homes will inevitably end up wasting energy.

It’s a little-known fact that, without storage, much of the energy generated by renewables goes to waste. Indeed, some two-thirds of the world’s energy is wasted between generation and usage.

Plus, this concept of waste aside, a lack of storage means that homes can only use any renewable energy intermittently – as and when weather conditions are favourable.

This, then, is when home storage batteries become essential. Batteries allow households to store excess electricity generated from renewable sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, enabling them to use this energy when it is needed. (And not just when the sun is shining, or the wind is blowing.) Firstly, having this excess energy stored for later use drastically cuts energy bills. From an environmental perspective, however, it also eases demand on the grid – thereby reducing carbon emissions.

Plus, even without renewables in place, a home storage battery still plays an essential role in clean energy management. Modern batteries – like those manufactured by GivEnergy – are designed to work strategically with smart energy tariffs. So, this means that they will charge intelligently using off-peak rates – storing energy only when it’s super cheap and green to do so. Then, in turn, they will discharge when energy costs are high. The home can run on battery power, instead of drawing from the grid when it’s at its costliest and dirtiest.

You would be right in thinking that all of the above makes energy storage a no-brainer inclusion in the Future Homes Standard. So, why is there no mention of home storage batteries in the government directive?

A continued lack of attention

For all the gains made over the past five years, energy storage still remains neglected at government level. The Future Homes Standard is a continuation of a pattern – not an exception to the rule.

For example, the British Energy Security Strategy furthers support for new nuclear, offshore wind, and heat pumps. Yet the deliverance of a complementary energy storage strategy is nowhere to be found.

More recently, following on from the Treasury’s reduction in VAT on renewables to 0%, the government is now reviewing whether to extend this VAT rule to include battery storage systems. However, even should this extension go ahead, it looks likely that it won’t apply to new installations or to standalone home batteries installed without renewables. Once again, then, a key opportunity to strategically embed energy storage into sustainable homes is somewhat short-sighted.

Perhaps more worrying is data from Cornwall Insight. Their research suggests that the government must invest £20bn in battery storage by 2030 to meet its renewables goals – which is almost a fifth of the government’s total investment in energy technologies.

As you can see then, energy storage is a broadly (and woefully) overlooked component in supporting the UK’s clean energy transition – of which the Future Homes Standard is just one part.

Powering change

Battery storage technology plays a significant role in reducing home carbon emissions. So, a forward-thinking government should update the Future Homes Standard to reflect this plain truth.

With energy storage capacity in the home, intermittent renewable energy becomes easier to harness and use consistently. Even without renewables, a home battery still allows homes to run on clean, off-peak battery power. Either way, then, the result of energy storage is that households can reduce their reliance on peak grid electricity – which is often generated from fossil fuel sources. In turn, households boast less waste, lower costs, and greener and more efficient energy usage.

To accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system, the UK government must stop overlooking home storage batteries. What better place to begin than the Future Homes Standard?

About the author

Jason Howlett is CEO at GivEnergy – the company empowering energy freedom for all. GivEnergy is the largest British-owned manufacturer of residential and commercial battery storage systems. As well as batteries, the company’s range also includes inverters, EV chargers, energy management software, and a host of supporting accessories. Together, these products create an ecosystem for customers to control their energy end-to-end.

UK Solar Energy Industry Comes of Age

Last year saw significant growth of solar power projects in the UK, despite a temporary setback when major solar initiatives nearly came a cropper due to opposition by a short-lived Prime Minister. Solar Energy UK Senior Communications Adviser Gareth Simkins sets the picture.

2022 was a big year for the British solar industry. Growth was unprecedented and the largest projects yet were announced, while concerted efforts to derail the sector hit the buffers. The UK parliament opened its first inquiry into the sector, although the year ended on a sour note with confirmation of a windfall tax.


The UK now has an estimated 15.5 GW of solar power capacity, having installed about 1 GW last year – a record since the end of subsidies in April2019. By far the largest segment of the solar power market is ground-mounted, accounting for about two thirds of capacity. The rest is split between commercial-scale and residential rooftops.


Why ‘estimated’? Truth be told, no one knows exactly how much solar power is connected to the grid at any one time, due in part to its rapid growth and the lack of any legal requirement to register smaller-scale installations.

Demand for photovoltaic (PV) panels is such that the cost of installation rose for the first time ever last summer, albeit only by a little. Nevertheless, investors are flocking to the sector, attracted by the promise of reliable, long-term returns by solar farms, while the benefits of domestic solar systems speak for themselves. The reasons for growth have changed over the years. The industry was once fed by the enticement of feed-in tariffs and renewable obligation certificates, on top of corporate social responsibility and green-minded desires to decarbonise homes. Now, cost saving is more in the driving seat. Given the massive energy price crisis, it makes sense to turn to one of the cheapest and greenest sources of power available. UK government policies such as the aim to decommission fossil-fuelled generation by 2035 and re-opening the contracts for difference (CfD) regime to solar are also helping to push the sector upwards.


Alongside economies of scale, those are some of the drivers behind projects such as the Blenheim Estate’s Botley West Solar Farm, near Oxford. With a proposed capacity of 840 MW, it is the largest solar project in the pipeline – a dozen times larger than the UK’s biggest existing solar farm.

The enormity of current gas and power bills have made payback periods for domestic solar far shorter. According to a recent report from Solar Energy UK, The Value of Solar Heat, for a typical gas-heated home, installing solar PV panels could save £1,276 a year, implying a payback period of less than six years. Switching from gas to a modern heat pump could save even more.


The figures for new homes are just as stark. Lifetime savings for a detached house in southern England with south-facing solar PV panels, a solar thermal system and a battery storage unit would be expected to exceed £200,000. Even for a home in a sub-optimal location such as north-east Scotland facing east-west, this kind of setup would still save around £3,000 a year.


Despite the largely positive business environment, the current installation rate will have to more than quadruple (4.5 times on average) to meet the UK government’s goal of reaching 70 GW of capacity by 2035. Solar Energy UK has a mid-term aspiration of reaching 40 GW by 2030. Although those goals may look a stretch, a brief glance at the rest of Europe indicates otherwise. Germany installed 7.9 GW last year, taking it to 68.5GW.
Solar Power Europe reckons the nation will hit 131 GW by 2026. Meanwhile, Ireland’s capacity is expected to almost double every year over the next few years.

Key challenges to solar power
So, what is getting in the way here? Figures in the industry repeatedly cite three factors:

  • Access to the grid.
  • Lack of qualified installers.
  • Limited availability of equipment.

Perhaps the biggest bugbear is grid connectivity – a problem faced by solar farms and commercial-scale rooftops alike. A chronic failure to invest in the grid has resulted in waiting periods of up to 15 years. It is common for developers to be told that connections will be available in the first half of the 2030s – stalling net zero efforts and making power pricier.


In December 2022, six energy trade bodies, including Solar Energy UK, wrote to the UK government to demand urgent action to address these constraints, seeking ‘personal leadership’ from Business Secretary Grant Shapps.


Earlier in the year, the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) slammed the system of distribution network operators (DNOs) – the middlemen between the high-voltage national grid and consumers – as “extortionate and highly ineffective monopolist gatekeepers” that are preventing vast amounts of solar power being added to the grid. The sector is considered to have the potential to double the UK’s current installed capacity.
Out of sight, easy to maintain and affordable, the case for solar should be obvious and yet we are being held back by poor market practice and failures of regulation,” complained UKWA Chief Executive Clare Bottle.

“It’s a tremendous frustration for solar installers and investors alike. So many developments are ready to go, with the potential to slash billions of pounds off energy bills, but are being subjected to huge delays,’ adds Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK. “As we are now firmly in the era of expensive gas, energy regulator Ofgem’s drive to keep bills low has had the perverse effect of keeping bills high.”


Solar Energy UK is working on answering the acute demand for labour. Working with the Mayor of London, industry certification body MCS and Community Energy London, the Solar Skills London project is engaging local authorities, schools, colleges and training providers to encourage young people into solar careers. It includes a series of introductory two-week courses and six-week ‘bootcamps’.


As China has now abandoned its post-COVID lockdown policies, access to solar kit should be much less of a problem in 2023 – although the industry recognises human rights concerns in the supply chain. Other countries and regions, including Europe and the US, are ramping up solar production.


Promoting responsible behaviour across the sector was a theme for 2022,with the launch of the Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI). Backed by SolarPower Europe and Solar Energy UK, the SSI seeks to guarantee adherence to environmental, labour rights and ethics obligations, and trace products along the entire supply chain, back to raw materials. The initiative is based on standards from the United Nations, ISO, World Resource Institute and OECD.

A further element is boosting biodiversity. Contrary to some ‘ill-informed’ claims, there is mounting evidence that solar farms benefit nature – under investigation in a project sponsored by Solar Energy UK. The association has also published best practice guidance on monitoring biodiversity and detailed advice on how to increase it and integrate solar farms with agriculture.


The latter issue provoked the low point of last year, when Liz Truss dismissed solar farms as ‘paraphernalia’ in a prime ministerial hustings speech. It came amid increasingly organised opposition to solar farms, with groups making false and exaggerated claims about landscape impacts and that solar farms threaten the food supply. In fact, the opposite is true. Solar farms benefit food security by addressing climate change, which the government acknowledges is the number one threat to British agriculture. They also help keep farms in business by cutting energy expenditure.

A temporary low point
During his brief tenure in office, Truss’ Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena proposed extending planning restrictions for good quality farmland to middling ‘3b’ land. As the worst grades tend to be in upland areas, distant from the grid, virtually all current solar farms are on 3b land. This initiative would have amounted to a de-facto ban, risking £20bn of investment, destroying jobs and doing profound harm to net zero efforts –and all amid the worst energy crisis for a generation.


Friends from across the political spectrum rallied against the prospect: the Conservative Environment Network, the Green Alliance and the Labour front bench, to name a few. Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband responded with a promise to treble solar generation within the party’s first term if it wins the next election. ‘This government cannot deliver when you have a Prime Minister who is a longstanding opponent of solar, and an environment secretary doing her bidding,’ he told The Guardian last October. Rishi Sunak’s administration has since confirmed that the threat is over and has offered a much more positive view of the solar sector. But a thorn remains in the industry’s side: the unfair 45% windfall tax. Given that most large-scale solar projects are ‘merchant’ schemes without the protection of a CfD, it could well hit investment just when it is needed most. Renewable generators will also be unable to offset the tax with new investment, unlike the oil and gas sector.


‘The government is tilting the playing field against renewables investment, while having told the world at COP27 that we want to be a clean energy superpower. The policy simply has to match the rhetoric,’ said Hewett.

This blog was originally published in New Energy World on January 2023.

Author: Gareth Simkins – gsimkins@solarenergyuk.org

Could solar farms contribute to food security by boosting pollinator biodiversity?

Solar farms play a role in solving two of our greatest challenges, climate change and biodiversity loss. But what about a third challenge: food security? Could some actions address multiple challenges simultaneously?

Solar farms support the UK’s food supply by helping to address climate change (the biggest threat to food security), providing cheap electricity (keeping farmers in business) and preserving agricultural land. But there could be another way that solar farms can contribute to food security by boosting biodiversity. A growing body of evidence suggests that well-designed and appropriately managed solar farms can enhance biodiversity. For example, solar farms surveyed by ecologists demonstrate an increase in the abundance of wildlife compared to their previous land use. One such group was invertebrates, including bees and butterflies, which can act as pollinators. Research suggests solar farms could support pollinators by providing them with critical food and nesting resources, increasing habitat connectivity on a landscape scale and providing refuge from climate warming if managed considerately. Pollinator habitats, such as wildflower meadows, can be established within solar farms and could increase the abundance of key pollinator groups, such as bumblebees by up to four times.

Pollinators provide us with a range of key services, including maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem stability, contributing to farmer and beekeeper livelihoods, and increasing food security through the pollination of crops. The benefit of insect pollination varies between crop types but can increase fruit and seed production, improve quality, and taste and speed up ripening. Insects contribute to the pollination of 84% of crop species in Europe, and the UK; oilseed, strawberries, apples, beans, and tomatoes are among those that benefit. Pollinator-dependent crops are becoming increasingly important in agriculture, and this trend is set to continue due to changing diets and growing human populations. However, concerns have been raised around pollination shortages and the stability of pollination services given declines in the diversity and distribution of some pollinator groups.

By enhancing pollinator biodiversity, solar farms can contribute to food security. Often located on agricultural land, solar farms are perfectly positioned to act as hotspots for insect pollinators and the pollination services they provide to nearby crops. Co-locating solar and pollinator-dependent crops will have the largest impacts and could yield significant economic benefits. For example, research suggests that deploying honeybee hives on every solar farm in England could have resulted in pollination service benefits worth £5.9 million in 2017. If the spatial distribution of pollinator-dependent crops were optimised to be located closer to solar farms, values could theoretically have reached £80 million. The impact of managing solar farms for wild pollinators has not yet been assessed, but given that wild pollinator communities are more important for crop pollination than domestic honeybees, the benefits could still be greater. Appropriate solar farm management could therefore unlock the potential for a win-win-win scenario for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and food security.

To learn more about managing solar farms for biodiversity, including insect pollinators, read Solar Energy UK’s report, The Natural Capital Value of Solar. This report presents a range of examples of management actions and offers guidance on best practices.

For more information about solar farms and food security, read Solar Energy UK’s briefing, Solar farms and food security: The Facts.

Author: Hollie Blaydes – hblaydes@solarenergyuk.org | Connect with Hollie on LinkedIn

Is Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 radical enough for the climate crisis?

Harking back to April 2019 when the climate emergency was formally declared by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon – we now have the final draft of new planning policy for Scotland. The big question is: does it live up to the billing expected when the FM said it needed to be ‘radical’?

I would say yes in many respects it does, but as ever there are some caveats to that. It certainly puts climate change and renewable energy development front and centre, stating: significant weight will be placed on the contribution of the proposal to renewable energy generation targets and on greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. There was already ‘significant weight’ attached to developments that can help tackle climate change in NPF3 and subsequent Chief Planner guidance. This is maintained in the new policy and strengthened because it is specific to energy generation and emission reduction targets. The more important point is whether everything else that was previously considered to have ‘significant weight’ and could trump climate action, was going to have less importance.

In many areas, this has happened. Policy in so-called ‘wild land’ is now more balanced to favour appropriate development of renewable energy schemes. This change in approach isn’t bad news for Scotland’s landscapes. It is important to remember that most of what is described as wild land is already afforded protection by being within the boundaries of National Parks and National Scenic Areas. The ‘wild land’ areas that can now be considered open for appropriate development are not within such designations and are not Scotland’s nationally important jewels in the crown of our landscapes. It has taken many years for the penny to drop that the ‘wild land’ tool was principally being used to block wind farms in some of Scotland’s windiest locations. I am glad that those days are gone now. Climate change is by far the biggest threat to all our landscapes and ecosystems.

Local authorities must now also realise the full potential of their areas for renewable energy generation. This link to the renewable resource potential makes a lot of sense. Not everywhere has the same amount of land, wind, water and solar irradiation. This is important so that energy can be harnessed where it is available and efficient to do so, and can be supplied to those who have less of it, like in cities. This is good news for the cost of energy and good news for communities who can benefit more from rich resources in their backyard.

It also sends a signal that we need to do the maximum. This perhaps puts being able to see renewable technology in the environment in a sharper focus, consistent with views of the vast majority of people, as a good thing – and the Scottish Government also recognizes that renewables will become much more common place as part of the human environment.  

For developers and investors (including community investors), such positive policy is very welcome, but (and quite rightly in my view) there is also pressure put back on developers, to maximise net economic impact, including local and community socio-economic benefits such as employment, associated business and supply chain opportunities. There is also an expectation that where feasible there will be positive benefits for biodiversity from any development – and for responsible developers this goes with the territory to ensure best practice and practical steps to improve habitat management for example, or to deliver associated restoration work. There is a nature crisis too, action on this is strengthened in the NPF4.

The importance of targets for renewable energy development is strongly recognised and as well as the ambitious targets for onshore and offshore wind, this now makes setting targets for Solar Energy really important in the soon to be published and revised Scottish Energy Strategy. It also means that we now need reinforced targets for renewable electricity to decarbonize heat and transport, not just traditional power consumption, in order to make the NPF bite. Solar PV arrays are also more explicitly listed in the document as a favoured technology which is to be welcomed.

Much of what trade body Solar Energy Scotland and other renewable energy interests asked for has been incorporated positively to some degree – including the removal of oddities such as automatic requirements for glint and glare studies, and support for appropriate renewable energy development in greenbelts. And ahead of the NPF4 being published the Scottish Government has announced an acceleration of a Permitted Development Rights review for solar panels at scale on industrial and commercial premises.

Some potential contradictions remain – for example it does appear that planning authorities might consider a development unacceptable where by virtue of type, location or scale will have an unacceptable impact on the natural environment, will not be supported.And then in the rural section it states: “Development proposals in rural areas should be suitably scaled, sited and designed to be in keeping with the character of the area. Such potential contradictions might be used to justify a ‘not here, do it somewhere else’ approach.

Yet elsewhere policy states that landscape and visual impacts for example “are to be expected for some forms of renewable energy. Where impacts are localised and/ or appropriate design mitigation has been applied, they will generally be considered to be acceptable”. The policy will obviously have to be considered in the round, in reaching a balanced judgement, and hopefully finding that balance through political leadership and bold decision-making consistent with what the climate crisis needs, and less through court challenges and public inquiries. As well as the question of whether the policy is radical enough, the true test will be whether we will see a reduction in the proportion of projects going into such long drawn out expensive processes – while the planet floods and burns.

George Baxter is Vice-Chair of Solar Energy Scotland and Director of Development at GreenPower 

What does the Conservative Party really think about solar?  

This piece was written by Solar Energy UK’s Chief Executive Chris Hewett.

I spent some of August on trains across Europe, gazing out at vast swathes of parched earth, dwindled rivers and failing crops. Climate change was plainly in action across the entire continent. Then I glanced at social media to find the two individuals vying to become Prime Minister competing with each other to say how terrible solar farms are. 

This was deeply depressing and angering. Anyone in the solar industry will have watched with horror. Now we know, of course, that not only do we have a Prime Minister who dislikes the sight of solar ‘paraphernalia’ but she has appointed a Secretary of State, in Jacob Rees-Mogg who has previously denied climate change. We have some challenging conversations ahead with government.  

But look closer at the commentary around the Conservative leadership election. It’s clear there are two sides and a growing number of vocal supporters of solar on the Right. 

Some of Truss and Sunak’s comments were clearly designed to attract some die-hard NIMBY votes from the very narrow electorate that selects the leader of their party, notwithstanding the fact that 73% of Conservative Party members actually support solar farms. But what is interesting in the last month has been the breadth of criticism that their remarks have drawn from natural allies in right wing think tanks, media and the farming industry. 

Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies (the most influential think tank among Conservative MPs according to a 2019 survey), directly attacked both Truss and Sunak in a Twitter thread saying “it is really weird to be mounting a dogged Nimbyist campaign against a thing most people really like (including farmers/the NFU). Especially at a time when producing more cheap, secure, renewable energy in your own country might be a really good idea”. His post got over 6,000 likes. James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation, and former Political Editor of The Telegraph, wrote a column in The Spectator, where he said “those solar panels that Sunak and Truss deplore are nothing less than an economic miracle, delivered by private companies seeking profit. Anyone who proclaims themselves supporters of markets should be shouting from the rooftops about this miracle”. Andy Mayer from another free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, commented that “both leadership candidates, by making a fetish of the Green Belt and hysterical opposition to local development, are likely to make the cost-of-living crisis worse.” Similar words came from the City Editor of the Daily Telegraph. 

Broadly speaking the free marketeers on the right are saying solar is winning in the marketplace and government shouldn’t be telling farmers what to do with their own land. In the same piece in City AM that the IEA was quoted, Tom Bradshaw, Deputy President of the NFU also stated that “renewable energy production is a core part of the NFU’s net zero plan and solar projects often offer a good diversification option for farmers.” There is clearly a need to be careful about siting and designing solar farms with respect to the highest quality agricultural land, and no one disputes this. There are also many economic, community and benefits to local nature that solar farms create. In the end, it may be economics that wins the argument. With the Treasury now on the hook for a £100bn energy bill support package, largely going to pay for gas, Chancellor and solar power backer Kwasi Kwarteng will have a huge incentive to encourage spades in the ground, and installers on roofs to build cheap renewables as fast as possible. 

The Times used its main leading column, to sum up the position. “Stop quibbling and start building the solar future we need”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. 

Chris Hewett 

Chief Executive, Solar Energy UK.

Hydrogen Explainer: ‘What’s all the fuss about?’

Hydrogen technology has secured increasing support from both government and the private sector alike. But what is it all about? 

Hydrogen is said to be ‘the next big thing’, touted as the fuel of the future for homes and heavy industry alike. It has great potential for high-temperature processes such as ceramic and cement production, for example, can be injected directly into the existing gas grid and used to power heavy vehicles. Hydrogen is also one of the few feasible options for zero-carbon aviation, either burning it directly in a jet engine or using it in a fuel cell to power a propeller. 

As it can be produced using solar power- dubbed yellow hydrogen – the technology is something that developers should at least key an eye on. 

However, critics such as the think tank E3G consider that cost and practicalities will preclude hydrogen from ever entering widespread use. It found last year that using ‘green hydrogen’ (see below) to keep our homes warm implies a 30-fold increase in offshore wind power deployment. Plans to expand hydrogen production have also been described as little more than a way to keep fossil fuels on life support, by manufacturing it from natural gas. 

As highlighted in an Imperial College report earlier in the year, injecting hydrogen into natural gas infrastructure would also mean having to retrofit vast lengths of old steel gas pipes, air pollution from nitrogen oxides, the need for huge hydrogen stores, safety risks – and consequently enormous costs. 

Hydrogen’s use in vehicles has not taken off either, partly due to electric battery technologies improving so quickly and the lack of refuelling stations. 

Nevertheless, the government is still enthusiastic about hydrogen in industry, having recently doubled targets for the sector that it put forward only last year. The technology is central to projects supported by £171m of government funding for industrial decarbonisation, on top of a further £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund and £250m for clean steel production. 

Last August’s Hydrogen Strategy set a target to have five gigawatts of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, explaining that this is equivalent to the natural gas consumed by more than three million households each year. “We are aware of a potential pipeline of over 15GW of projects, from large scale [carbon capture]-enabled production plants in our industrial heartlands, to wind or solar powered electrolysers in every corner of the UK,” it states. 

The passage was one of the few mentions of solar power in the strategy, which assumed that natural gas would remain cheap and therefore dominate the sector. Then Vladimir Putin intervened. 

The British Energy Security Strategy, written in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was rather more even handed. It doubled the earlier strategy’s objective to 10GW by 2030, setting an ambition for at least half of that of that to be from electrolysis. It added that up to a gigawatt of green hydrogen capacity should be operational or under construction by 2025. 

The hydrogen rainbow 

Hydrogen is currently used almost entirely in refineries and for the production of chemicals, manufactured on site from natural gas – a process known as grey hydrogen. This releases one molecule of carbon dioxide for every two molecules of hydrogen, so is an inherently unsustainable process.  

There is an entire rainbow of other colours used to describe other methods, which vary in their practicality and state of development. 

  • Blue hydrogen: The same as grey hydrogen, but with its associated CO2 emissions captured and stored. Billions of pounds are going into plans to build CO2 transport pipelines and storage systems offshore. 
  • Green hydrogen: Electrolysis is the cleanest but – as things stand at least – the most expensive method of production. Renewably produced electricity is passed through water, releasing hydrogen at one terminal and oxygen at the other. Electrolyser technology is improving rapidly, in terms of efficiency, cost and scale, in much the same way that renewable energy has over recent decades. 
  • Yellow hydrogen: Green hydrogen from solar power. There are already some projects in the pipeline in the UK. For example, EDF is planning to use its proposed 49.9MW Tees Solar Farm near Redcar, combined with an offshore wind farm, to power an electrolyser system of 30-50MW capacity. It could scale up to 500MW as demand grows. There is also experimental technology that can produce hydrogen directly from water and sunlight, bypassing the need for electrolysers. 
  • Pink hydrogen: Hydrogen from nuclear-powered electrolysis. 
  • Turquoise hydrogen: Like grey and blue hydrogen, this also uses natural gas. But it instead passes it through a molten metal, resulting in hydrogen with solid carbon as a by-product. For now, this is a purely theoretical process. 
  • White hydrogen: Hydrogen obtained through drilling, in the same manner as oil or natural gas. It may not be economically viable. 
  • Black hydrogen: Made from the gasification of coal, similar to how ‘town gas’ was made before natural gas from the North Sea replaced it. 

The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund: A Role for Solar PV

This blog written by Stuart Elmes first appeared on the solarblogger here.

On 19th October, the UK government revealed its much anticipated Heat in Buildings Strategy.  Headline writers entirely focused on only one element of the announcement –  the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, a plan to give grants of £5,000 to people replacing fossil fuel heating by installing a heat pump in their own home.  

However the Strategy contained other initiatives which, while less-publicised, better address the barriers to the transition to electric heating – by helping mitigate both their high running costs and expensive installation. These funds aimed at social landlords and Local Authorities takes a more holistic approach since they can also be used for measures that tackle running costs by reducing heating demand and generating power on-site.

The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund

Less reported, but with a budget many times higher than the headline-grabbing Boiler Upgrade Scheme is the funding announced for the next three years for delivery through Local Authorities and Social Landlords.  The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (£800m over three years) is for energy improvements to social housing and the Home Upgrade Grant (£950m) will be administered by Local Authorities and support energy efficiency improvements for low income households.
For the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, the approach is summarised as follows:

  • Fabric first – heat loss prevention is prioritised before other energy efficiency measures
  • Worst first – homes with lower starting energy performance attract more funding
  • Upon completion homes must achieve a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C and maximum space heating demand of 90kWh/m2.year

It is set up as a competition, with applicants scored on how well they meet the goals above, as well as for deliverability and cost-effectiveness.  The landlord contributes at least 1/3 of the cost of the upgrade with 2/3 coming from the fund.  If a landlord takes the full grant and adds the minimum contribution only, then the amount that can be spent on each type of property is given below.  Landlords can elect to spend more on the property, but the extra is then provided by the landlord.

These are pretty chunky amounts.

Eligible measures are anything that improves the EPC, with the exception of new fossil fuel heating systems.  Low carbon heating is encouraged, but only after fabric measures have been implemented.  The tenant must be left better off – with lower energy bills.

This is where solar PV comes in –  due to the high cost of electricity compared to gas, replacing gas heating with electric heating will increase energy bills, unless the starting levels of thermal insulation are exceptionally low and can be improved by a very large amount.  (See my earlier blog – Real-World Heat Pump Running Costs)

The complementarity of solar PV and heat pumps is well-understood by social landlords, as can be seen by reviewing the successful bids in the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, which were announced March 2021 and I have put into summary form in the table below.

Fourteen out of seventeen successful bids, covering 2,103 out of 2,342 (90%) of the properties to be improved have solar PV among the measures to be installed.  In fact only one project (Manchester) is installing ASHP without PV.
With a total cost of £62.1m, the demonstrator projects grant component is an average of £26,000 per property – higher than the current ceiling, but due to solar PV being such a cost effective way to improve EPCs, it is likely to remain a feature of projects in the future waves.


This system approach to improving properties comprising significant improvements to insulation to lower heat demand, and combining low carbon heating with solar PV to keep a lid on the energy bills for residents seems far more sensible than a crude upfront grant to help cover some of the extra costs of the heat pump installation alone.


That winning combination of heat pumps and solar PV is well-understood by experienced practitioners of energy retrofit working in the social housing sector.  By contrast, owner-occupiers encouraged by generous grants to install heat pumps may find themselves on the phone to their local solar PV installer soon after their first electricity bills land on the doormat.

Solar Thermal Progress

05 October 2021

Solar thermal is a powerful green addition to a building’s heat supply, generating space and water heating using the sun’s energy. The technology can help the UK with decarbonisation by supporting the move to low carbon heat methods; solar thermal is a fully zero carbon heating technology, compared with electric heating, which also needs 100% renewable electricity (for example, from onsite generation such as solar PV) to achieve the same benefit. 

This is of major importance, given that space, water and industrial heating together account for more than a third of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Onsite heat generation technologies such as solar thermal also help reduce the cost of bills for homeowners and occupiers. Decreasing the reliance of homes and buildings on imported energy, such as electricity and gas, is particularly relevant in the context of the increases in gas prices, which have been widely discussed in the last few weeks.  

The technology is particularly popular at the moment: the graph above shows the massive increase in solar thermal installations which have taken place in the UK in 2021. This is positive: the more solar thermal systems installed, the less electricity and gas is required to generate heat in buildings. But where has this growth come from? One obvious source is government support. Many of these systems were installed under the Government incentive scheme, the Green Homes Grant (GHG). Homeowners who applied for the scheme were able to secure up to two-thirds of the costs of a green home installation (up to £5,000), or more for low-income households. 

The popularity of solar thermal is clear: according to government statistics, solar thermal installations accounted for 60% of all low-carbon heat measures installed under the scheme – more than any other low-carbon technology, including heat pumps – and 15% of total installations before the scheme was closed – early – on 31 March 2021. This closure was a source of major frustration for industry, given the popularity of the technology that the GHG figures show: the scheme contributed to the fact that in the first eight months of 2021, there were 5,485 solar thermal installations – more than 14 times as many as the total number in 2020.  

Consumer demand for low-carbon onsite heating is clear, and the solar thermal industry can help meet it. But there needs to be a stable policy environment for companies to take decisions and plan their business. This is why Solar Energy UK has called on the government to ensure that any future grant scheme is designed for the long term – at least several years – and is developed in consultation with the solar energy industry and others involved in the domestic retrofit supply chain, including the construction, roofing and low- 

One potential mechanism to support the deployment of solar thermal is the Clean Heat Grant (CHG), which is due to launch in April 2022 and will deliver upfront grants to help homeowners pay for low carbon heating technologies. Designed to replace the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the government is proposing to provide up to £7,000 in grants to homeowners to support installations. However, solar thermal is not currently reported to be one of the technologies that will be eligible for the grant. Solar Energy UK is pressing the government to ensure that it is included.  

This risks missing a major opportunity to support the deployment of a technology which should be vital to the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. As Grant Feasey from Solar Energy UK member AES Solar said: “Solar Thermal is proven to be an affordable and effective option to reduce the carbon footprint and running costs of new and existing buildings in many cases. It also tackles an energy requirement that is essential and can’t be insulated away – hot water.” 

“We have seen through the Green Homes Grant that it is a popular measure with the public, especially for existing homes. A continuation of similar up-front support in combination with increased awareness and effective policy for new build and existing homes can see the growth of the solar thermal supply chain in the UK, enabling it to decarbonise a significant portion of our heat energy needs.” 

By Ben Milne, Policy Research Assistant at Solar Energy UK.

Gas price surge – what does it mean for solar and storage?

22 September 2021

The recent global price spike in gas and its impact on the UK electricity market, in particular, has shown how exposed to volatile fossil fuel prices consumers and businesses are. If you add Britain’s particularly brittle retail electricity supply market and high levels of fuel poverty to the mix, it becomes a full-blown political crisis.  

But what does this mean for solar? Essentially the crisis reinforces most of the main reasons for investing in renewables: solar and energy storage especially. 

First, this is a clear warning sign that the UK needs to reduce its dependency on gas as a matter of urgency. Solar and wind are now the lowest costs ways to generate electricity, so the quicker we get renewables onto the grid, they will displace expensive, high carbon gas. It is also true that solar thermal plays a role in decarbonising heat, which will be good for carbon reduction and delivering low-cost power for consumers. 

Second, investment in solar and storage will help mitigate against periods of low wind. Whilst not a perfect correlation, of course, when the country is experiencing high pressure and the wind drops, the skies are often clearer, increasing solar output. Battery storage and longer duration storage, like green hydrogen, alongside flexible demand, will also be required in a system where variable renewables are dominant. The investment case for storage gets more compelling in a volatile market, and it is far quicker to deploy than some of the ‘firm power’ options proposed, like nuclear or carbon capture. We know there are 20GW of solar and 20GW of storage projects being developed already that need to get built soon to complement the growth in wind. 

Third, the market for corporate PPAs is likely to be strengthened as we see the impact of volatile gas prices. More finance directors will be drawn to the idea of stable long term energy prices that can be guaranteed with onsite generation or buying from a renewable generator. 

Finally, the same can be said for residential solar and storage. Rising fossil fuel prices will make the payback for solar and battery storage investment shorter, especially when considering the electrification of transport and heat.  

In an uncertain world, the predictability of solar to power your home, charge your car and keep you warm will become ever more valuable. We are seeing the beginnings of the death throes of the fossil fuel economy, and it is vital that policymakers and investors alike take this a sign to accelerate the energy transition, not try and patch up the status quo.   

By Chris Hewett, Chief Executive at SEUK.

UK solar ambitions – how do they compare?

12 August 2021:

Solar Energy UK has shown how the UK can achieve 40GW of solar energy generation by 2030. This is the level of deployment analysis by organisations such as the Climate Change Committee suggests is consistent with the UK achieving a net zero economy by 2050.

But how does this compare with other European countries? Solar Energy UK looked at deployment and population figures to put this in context, based on data from Solar Power Europe and the World Bank.

The graph below shows European solar deployment targets.

Germany, which has the largest existing solar market, also has the highest level of solar ambition for the next decade. It is targeting nearly 100GW of deployed capacity by 2030. This is nearly double the next highest target, of 51GW, which Italy intends to deploy.

*Target is for 2028

The next graph, below, shows the same European solar deployment targets, adjusted for population size.

This shows that, on a per capita basis, Portugal has by far the highest level of ambition. It intends to deploy more than six times as much solar power per million residents than any other country.

*Target is for 2028

Portugal is clearly an outlier though. Removing it from the graph shows that the majority of countries across Europe intend to deploy between 0.5 and 0.8GW of solar power per million inhabitants by the end of the decade.

*Target is for 2028

Significantly, excluding Portugal, the next highest level of ambition is that of two northern European countries, Germany and the Netherlands. This demonstrates that the viability of solar power is not directly connected to the latitude of where it is installed – a common misconception.

Where does the UK sit among these targets?

Nowhere, at the moment.

This is because the UK does not currently have a formal solar deployment target. However, it does have a legally binding commitment to achieve a net zero economy by 2050, and to achieve this, it will need to drastically expand the amount of electricity it generates from renewable sources.

Solar Energy UK has outlined how the UK can deploy 40GW of solar power by 2030. The final graph below includes this figure as if it were an official target. This shows that on a per capita basis, if the UK deployed 40GW of solar by 2030, then on a per capita basis this would place it in line with other countries’ targets.

This would be a good start. However, the British government has yet to commit to such a target, which in any case would be the minimum level consistent with the UK meeting its climate change commitments. And this level of ambition would also still be less than half that of two other northern European economies, Germany and the Netherlands.

Solar Energy UK will therefore continue to call on the government to commit to 40GW by 2030 – and to develop plans to build on this. To reach the 2030 target, the UK could implement a range of measures. These include regular access to renewable energy auctions for utility scale projects, amending the business rates regime for commercial scale projects, and developing a long-term retrofit programme for residential rooftop projects.

More information on these are available in Solar Energy UK’s recent deployment forecast, Lighting the way. Get in touch to learn more about the UK’s solar-powered future.

*Target is for 2028

By Kevin McCann, Policy Manager, and Ben Milne, Policy Research Assistant


Solar power has a crucial role to play in the active revolution

21 July 2021:

Solar technology has been in the vanguard of the UK’s shift towards a decarbonised, decentralised energy system for years. Photovoltaic panels are an immediately recognisable indicator that a household has made the first big step to greener living, and the rooftops of the UK have been changed forever. Those panels are now found on one in every 25 buildings. 

We have proved to be a nation of solar enthusiasts, but the job is very far from done. There is still an enormous, untapped opportunity for even more solar-powered renewable energy generation in this country.

In many ways there is an obligation too. The built environment contributes a staggering 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Unless we can heat and power all our buildings – homes, offices, schools and hospitals – in a radically different way, the government’s target of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 will prove completely undeliverable. 

But at the Active Building Centre, we believe we can be even more ambitious, and look beyond a zero-emission goal for the UK’s housing stock. Let’s have homes that are no longer a liability on the national emissions balance sheet, but are assets instead.

Unsurprisingly, solar will again have a crucial role to play in this next stage of the energy transition. The industry already promotes battery storage and smart systems that manage and optimise energy consumption, working alongside those photovoltaic cells. This matches our vision of how the best future homes will look: ultra-flexible, energy-efficient buildings with electrified heating, electric vehicle charging points and battery storage, all integrated into an intelligent system. We call those Active buildings, and they will be an important part of all our futures. Indeed, they will set the very standard for all our future homes. 

Importantly, however, an Active home also has the ability to redistribute energy back into the grid, depending on the smart system calculating when is best to store surplus energy and when is best to sell it. This earns a return for the homeowner and, applied on a national scale, converts the UK’s housing stock into a network of millions of decentralised renewable power stations. Excitingly, those personal power stations can come in many forms – wind and hydrogen can play their roles – but solar will be a critical part of this energy mix.

Solar is an exemplar of how many of the technologies that will power Active homes are already proven and available off the shelf. Others, like the new generation of heat pumps that our engineers are working on, will continue to be refined and upgraded. 

Our job at the Active Building Centre is to show how these different technologies can be affordably and effectively integrated into smart and self-sufficient energy systems. And as Active homes become the norm, the energy make-up of the UK will be radically transformed – with those glorious solar cells dotting even more of our roofs.

Understanding the attitudinal barriers to solar PV adoption

21 July 2021:

A core part of Solar Energy UK’s work revolves around talking up policies that would boost the growth of the UK’s solar energy markets. For example, reforming the business rates regime, supporting up-front financing, and addressing reliability myths are three ways in which the deployment of rooftop solar technologies could be accelerated.

Fortunately this is a view that Government researchers share, according to a new public attitudes report published by BEIS earlier this month. The research, which involved 15 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and nearly 900 households across Great Britain, was aimed at understanding the barriers and enablers to solar PV adoption.

With the UK currently wilting under a heatwave, this timely report highlights factors influencing consumers and businesses in their decision to invest in solar energy technologies. According to the research, measures which might increase deployment on household rooftops include:

  • Establishing a scheme to address consumer risks about the reliability of solar panels. This is even though, as the research highlights, solar PV is an extremely reliable technology.
  • Raising awareness of schemes such as the Smart Export Guarantee, which provides homeowners with the ability to sell surplus solar power to the national electricity grid.
  • Developing new financial mechanisms to spread out the costs of installing a solar system over time.

For businesses, the report, which was based on in-depth interviews with SMEs, highlighted the attractive economics of solar. Respondents suggested that this is a major reason to install a rooftop system, reflecting the findings of Solar Energy UK research on the costs of commercial solar. The research also identified the environmental benefits of installing onsite solar generation as increasingly important for businesses’ reputation, and licence to operate.

However, respondents highlighted regulatory uncertainty as a risk. For the SMEs surveyed, the “single biggest barrier for the adoption of solar” is the potential for increases in business rates. Solar Energy has previously highlighted the impact of the business rates regime, including writing to the Chancellor in 2020, with wide support from across business and industry. Solar Energy UK has produced Business Rates advice for companies to understand how to calculate their liabilities, and continues to call on the government to ensure there is a level playing field for onsite solar power generation.

Overall, the BEIS research corroborates what Solar Energy UK members often cite as solar’s key advantages: it is an affordable, accessible, and effective way to reduce carbon emissions. As the report makes clear, there is also “headroom for expansion” – for example, in London, which has a relatively low deployment footprint at the moment. Solar Energy UK recently launched Solar Skills London to support the expansion of the capital’s solar industry. 

The BEIS report noted the strong growth in UK solar, including since the end of the installation subsidy feed-in tariff, with solar panel installation costs having declined by 60% since 2010. Home occupiers can also make money by selling power to the national grid. Solar Energy UK’s Smart Export Guarantee league table enables consumers to identify the potential revenue that could be earned from the surplus electricity produced by home solar panels.

To learn more about solar PV’s deployment potential around the country, read Solar Energy UK’s flagship report, Lighting the way. This report includes clear recommendations which, if implemented, could see the deployment of 40GW of solar power in the UK by 2030, a level consistent with the UK meeting its climate change target of reaching a net zero economy by 2050.

ENDS

By Ben Milne, Policy Research Assistant and Kevin McCann, Policy Manager.

What the solar industry really wants: commitment

17 June 2021:

Solar energy is among the most established, lowest risk, and most popular of renewable technologies. So, what will it take for the UK Government to set out a formal commitment to accelerating its development?

In 2019, the UK led the way in becoming the world’s first major economy to adopt a binding legal commitment to end the country’s contribution to global warming by 2050 – meaning all greenhouse gas emissions must either eliminated or offset by that year.

It’s what is required to keep overall warming below 2.0C. This is what the world pledged to deliver through the Paris Agreement, and global leaders are late to start making good on this promise.

The problem is many experts already consider the aspirational Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5C to be a lost cause. The past decade was the hottest on record, with total global emissions still rising and showing little signs of slowing. 

What we need now is grounded solutions. And with the UK hosting the 26th international Climate Change Conference in November 2021, there’s a valuable opportunity to again show how the UK is again leading the way with meaningful action to meet its commitments.

Independent analysis from the Climate Change Committee and other leading experts makes clear the UK will not achieve net zero without major increases in renewable energy, particularly from established technologies such as solar and storage.

There is consensus on the scale of the challenge. The UK will need to nearly treble the amount of solar installed over the next decade, from 14GW today to 40GW by 2030, including at least 4GW in Scotland, if we’re to stay on track. This will also need to be met with a commensurate increase in supporting technologies like energy storage.

This means setting ambitious targets and having the determination to work with industry to deliver on them. The UK’s forthcoming Net Zero Strategy is the next major opportunity to set out how we will get there.

What the solar industry needs to hear is that government is equally ambitious to accelerate the development of solar, as it is about targets for offshore wind and other technologies.  

Our latest report presents a clear roadmap for how the Government can accelerate the development of solar, with several recommendations for action, including on planning and tax reforms, together with support for homeowners and others.

It shows how solar would provide a £17 billion boost in economic activity, create over 13,000 jobs, and help homeowners and businesses reduce their energy bills, while reducing carbon emissions by 4.7% and supporting biodiversity.

In the solar industry, we know exactly what needs to be done and we know how to get there. Now we need the Government to commit to a bold target and deliver the reforms to make this happen.  

Why are Solar PV Panels Getting Bigger?

08 June 2021:

Power Games


The rated power of solar PV panels has climbed steadily over time. This has been driven in large part by innovative new processing techniques for the cells themselves, although improvements to the technology of panel assembly has also played a role. Over the decade from 2010, customers of the panel manufacturers came to expect higher and higher module powers each year.

Because all panels were the same size, the panel power was a good shorthand measure for how advanced the cell technology was. If a panel was rated at 320Wp then it would generate 14% more energy per square metre of space than a 280Wp module.

Squeezing more power (measured in Watt-peak – or Wp per panel) into the same footprint tended to drive down the cost per installed unit of rated power ($/Wp). Since the cost of the glass, frame and other components of the module and all the installation materials remained the same for modules of any power. The inexorable rise in power density of the available cells was a significant factor in helping the industry achieve the amazing feat of cost reductions we have seen over that decade.

In addition, new techniques for squeezing every drop of performance out of the cells in solar modules have also allowed the accumulation of small gains. Using a greater number of conduction wires (bus bars) with a more slender width on the top face of the cells reduces power lost due to shading of the cell below and also reduces losses from electrical resistance. Cutting the cells into halves, or thirds, or quarters and wiring all these fragments together into parallel circuits again reduces resistance losses as well as reducing the sensitivity of the module to shading. The efficiency gap between measuring the cell in isolation compared to the assembled panel has reduced over the years.

However, gains from improving cell powers have reached a plateau. See my blog on why solar cells are not getting more powerful (coming soon).

So manufacturers reaching for new ways to keep the story of ever more powerful modules at ever lower cost per Wp going have found a simple answer – just make the cells and the panels bigger.

Breathless excitement from credulous industry commentators as announcement of modules exceeding 400Wp, then 500Wp barriers misses the point. A not-so sleight of hand is evident as soon as you look at the product behind the headline number. Panels are not getting better, they’re just getting bigger.

You can have any (size), so long as its….
When it came to solar PV panels (modules) we all used to know where we stood. A solar PV panel was just under 1m wide and around 1.65m long. It had each of its 60 cells were 156mm square. A defacto standard for PV panels emerged around 2010 and manufacturers stuck to it.

Using the Waybackmachine internet archive I accessed historic web pages of industry stalwart Trina Solar. For each year where I could find the information, I downloaded product information for the highest power module that was being offered for sale at that time. See the graphic at the top of the page.

You can see that from 2009 to 2018, its module powers increased from 230Wp to 315Wp while their size remained the same. The corresponding module power density increased from 141 to 192Wp/m2.

Today Trina Solar offers modules with powers ranging from 320Wp to 600Wp by virtue of offering modules of much larger dimensions.

There were many advantages that came from working to a standard size.

In manufacturing – everything from the sheets of glass to the width of the encapsulant film and backing sheet to the pallets and packaging could all be made to the same size. Economies of scale for the whole industry drove down costs and raw materials are readily available from many different suppliers.

Downstream, manufacturers of so-called ‘balance of materials’ equipment could also standardise their products.

The electrical characteristics of the modules were all in a relatively small range and manufacturers of module level power electronics (MLPE) such as power optimisers and microinverters could easily cover the whole market with a small range of products.

Since the physical dimensions of modules varied so little between models, manufacturers of roof mounting kits also benefitted. The wind loading per module was the same for all modules, allowing optimised designs for fixings. The spacing of point loads on rails was consistent for any design. Roof integrated BIPV products emerged that worked with these standardised modules and relied on their predictable format for wide interoperability and a single wind resistance value (though fire classifications proved less simple).

When designing with standard sized modules, solar installers had confidence that the system they were designing would be available both now and into the future. This is especially important for new build projects where the design may be priced for construction many months or even years in the future. Even if the specific module selected with was no longer available, an alternative of the same dimensions could easily be found.

Finally customers benefitted from the knowledge that in the event that a single panel in a system was to fail, that a replacement of the same format would be available in future and could simply drop into the mounting system.

Battle of the Formats


A standards war has broken out with TrinaSolar, Risen Energy, Canadian Solar and others lining up against Hanwha Q Cells, REC Group, LG on the one hand and Longi, Jinko and others on the other – each calling for the industry to focus on cells of the dimensions they prefer. Will the industry settle on 158.75, 166, 182, or 210mm? At this point nobody knows.

(See my guide to different PV cell size formats here)

In any case the cell size no longer quite defines the module size. Since manufacturers have started slicing up cells into smaller sub-units (half-cut , third cut cells) there is greater freedom to choose different module sizes. Dizzy with this new found freedom, module designers are expressing their creativity with the results of a a wide range of module sizes now available in the market (see graphic).

Even within single manufacturers a range of many different panel sizes are now on offer. The graphic shows a sample of products available from four of the larger industry players. Panel powers range from 320Wp to 800Wp, but as can be seen the power density (Wp/m2) ranges only from 193 to 212 Wp/m2.

This is because the cells are pretty much the same but the packing efficiency is ever so slightly higher in a larger panel (because the edges are a smaller proportion of the whole).

An arms race for ‘plus-sized’ size panels is in progress, with JA currently in the lead offering the Jumbo Blue at 2.2m x 1.8m and 800Wp. These panels are completely impractical for rooftop applications, but are aimed instead at utility scale ground mount.

It seems that module manufacturers have decided that the cost and convenience benefits of standardisation of module sizes can go hang. Instead they are pursuing a product strategy of scaling up panel dimensions to increase panel power that is leaving the rest of the solar supply chain scrambling to catch up.

Where will this end? There are clearly practical limits. How big a module can customers handle? The answer to this question depends on where you are trying to install it. If you’re on top of a windy roof you don’t want to be humping round a 4m2 monster, but maybe that’s perfectly fine with mechanised lifting for a ground mount system.

The economics of solar PV has changed. Modules now dominate the cost structure of a solar PV installation to a much lesser extent. While it was the case that the module was the principal cost, it made sense to work with a standard format and drive out as much cost as possible. As panel prices have fallen, maybe it does make sense to design specialist modules for different jobs. Naturally manufacturers are focussing on their most important markets – solar farms and hence the rush to produce the bigger formats, which reduce other costs in installation and clamps.

Could this trend extend beyond different panel sizes to panels with special design features for different applications? Maybe in future the panels used for flat roofing installations will be different from those used for fixing to corrugated metal roofs and have special features that make installation easier? Or maybe the industry will step back from format wars and settle on a few standardised sizes for different applications. Some folks in the business of making mounting kits for the solar modules made by these manufacturers must certainly be hoping so!

In the footsteps of Romans and Monks – at Llanwern

07 May 2021:

The hardest part of writing a blog – finding a title that will draw in the audience.

NextEnergy and partners are proud to have developed and constructed a 75MW solar site called Llanwern in South Wales. I first heard of the Llanwern project in late 2017; it was expressed as a site covering many full-sized football pitches, certainly much larger than any site that NE owned to date. In fact, at the moment, it is the largest solar site in the UK, a site covering 145 hectares.

Then in March 2018 the project secured its Grid and planning rights.

The location was described as close to Newport, then I did a little more research and realised that the area was in fact part of the Gwent Levels; an area classified as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

It has been noted that it was in use 5000 BC, however, it was reclaimed back by the sea. A Roman General Sextus Julius Frontius, based at Caerleon, built a sea wall and reclaimed the land behind the wall. Ditches (known locally as reens) were developed so that water from the uplands could reach the sea without flooding the reclaimed land. It was in use for 350 years by the Romans. After their departure, the monks at the Goldcliff Priory took on the task to master the land. In 1530, King Henry VIII, created the Courts of Sewers and the Courts of Caldicot and Wentlooge were established. This was a formal undertaking to ensure that the land was managed properly. No financial support was given by Royalty or Government, however, it was left to the landowners and they were policed by the Courts of Sewers, in Llanwern it was the Court of Caldicot.

To gain planning permission, numerous studies that had to be undertaken, archaeological to ecological to name but a few, to satisfy an understandable number of interested parties.

The area is sometimes referred to as the living levels, as the site has reens; amphibians will have shared use. Along with invertebrates, reptiles, badgers, bats, lapwings, common cranes, rare bumble bees (the shrill carder bee), dormice, brown hares, and hedgehogs; along with others not singled out with a mention. The hedgerows and field boundaries include mature willow, oak, ash and horse chestnut.

The development team worked with specialists to ensure that nothing could or would be overlooked for its future management as a solar plant. Much research was required to gain a full understanding and appreciation of the land management requirements during its development, construction and full operation.

A Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) had to be developed and approved. The plan during pre-construction, led by an ecologist to ensure that habitats, hedgerows, trees, bats, water voles, ground nesting birds and nesting birds (trees and hedges) were left unscathed.

For the next 40 years NE will be the custodians of this beautiful part of Wales, with its reed-fringed ditches, maintained in line with a 44-page Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP).

Wildlife features added in the form of bird boxes of varying sizes and entrance holes to suit different species, tree sparrow boxes, barn owl boxes, and bat boxes. Habitat piles to benefit reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians, will be constructed from arising from the hedgerows and placed in corners of fields. Bug hotels constructed from suitable materials of the site infrastructure.

This estuarine landscape, a patchwork of fields edged by reens and sluice gates to manage the flow of water, has contrasting seasons which attracts migrating birds.

A seasonal visitor is the Common Crane, and dedicated areas of habitat have set been set aside for them to continue their use of the land. Crane crossings have been added, timber planks crossings to allow cranes with chicks to move between fields easily. Water quality was to be maintained throughout construction and will be through the duration of the solar farm’s operation. It will be an interesting solar site to observe, and certainly an area worth a visit.

Members, to find out more on the biodiversity benefits of solar, please join our next Natural Capital Working Group, to RSPV click here.

Coming down to Earth Day – with a bump

26 April 2021:

The day after the Earth Day before, 2021. The planet is careering towards catastrophic tipping points and the temperature is rising in more ways than one. All the main Scottish political party manifestoes for the forthcoming election are now out. So is it Douglas to the rescue? Is Willie’s shoulder to the wheel? Is Nicola radical enough? Is Anas’s army up to it? Or will Patrick and Lorna’s green machine make the difference?

I thought I’d take a look and pass comment, not on how many ‘net zeros’ there are or whether they are committed to this that or the other distant target, or whether they wanted a ‘Just Transition’ to a clean, green future of energy, or mentioned Hydrogen – there’d be nothing to say, it wouldn’t matter who you voted for, they’d all be amazing and rich in promise that they will take us to the promised land of net zero by various future dates, typically beyond the period for which election is being sought.

What about actual action on some of things that are closest to GreenPower’s heart – namely developing onshore wind and solar generating stations, in order to create the green electrons to seriously tackle the vast plume of pollution that heating and transport is pumping out every year. It’s not scientific, it isn’t comprehensive – but a snapshot on these fronts.

First up, solar – the SNP manifesto doesn’t even mention it once. Neither do the Lib Dems. And this is a technology that the UK Climate Change Committee recommends 80GW is installed across the UK. In Scotland today there is a only 370MW installed, just 3% of all Scottish renewable capacity. Solar Energy Scotland estimates 11-16 times this is deliverable in Scotland by 2030. I know Scotland can be a bit dreich, but solar works here. For example, on the east side of the country there are similar levels of irradiation as say somewhere way south like Birmingham – and a country like Denmark at the same latitude currently has over 3 times more solar installed than we do.

Scottish Labour – are they good for it? No. It only merits a fleeting mention name-checking a community solar company as an example of community energy initiatives. The Scottish Conservatives – absolutely nothing.  Maybe the Greens will do better? But no, nothing there either. How very odd! I suspect this is all just an oversight, albeit a pretty embarrassing one for them all I would suggest. But with the various generic manifesto commitments to ‘renewable energy’ there may be room post election for the party or parties in power to get their act together on solar.

How about onshore wind? First up the Scottish Lib Dems – nope, no mention. That’s disappointing. Willie appears to be all offshore on wind. The Scottish Conservatives mention it once – so all is not lost. They will support onshore as long as the local community agrees and benefits. The SNP and Labour manifestoes don’t mention it specifically, preferring to join Willie offshore, but there are some references to harnessing renewable energy generally so there may be some hope there.

The Greens are much less coy, making a clear commitment to doubling the amount of onshore wind by 2030 and improving the planning process to do so. That’s more like it. They also want much more of the investment in projects to come from the domestic supply chain. This latter point is a laudable aim, but to deliver it absolutely demands the quid pro quo of setting specific deployment targets and creating a planning system that can deliver volume and scale – so that industry can gear up the investment in the supply chain. Creating Scottish renewable jobs is something all parties want – part of the ‘Just Transition’ which all the parties namecheck with some gusto. Good to see at least the Greens getting the planning and deployment policy connection to maximising job creation.

What I was looking for was clear action on solar and onshore wind, and committing to actions in the short term to deliver the necessary volumes by 2030. All of them hopeless on solar. Only one of them appears to get onshore wind properly. 2030 is the key date. Deployment targets will drive all policy to deliver, especially in planning policy, and such policy will need to happen early in this next parliamentary term to do it.

UK industry supply chain statement

The statement below has been developed in consultation with industry members as part of Solar Energy UK’s ongoing supply chain sustainability workstream.

“We, members of the UK solar energy industry, condemn and oppose any abuse of human rights, including forced labour, anywhere in the global supply chain. We support applying the highest possible levels of transparency and sustainability throughout the value chain, and commit to the development of an industry-led traceability protocol to help to ensure our supply chain is free of human rights abuses.”

A full list of signatories can be found below. Last updated 09:35 Wednesday 6 April 2022

  • AES Solar
  • Alternergy
  • Anesco Limited
  • Aura Power
  • Bath & West Community Energy
  • Balance Power Projects
  • BayWar.e. Operation Services Limited
  • BCR Associates
  • BeBa Energy UK Ltd
  • Belectric Solar Ltd
  • Belltown Power
  • Bluefield Partners LLP
  • Boom Power Ltd
  • Brighter Green Engineering Ltd
  • Brighton Energy Coop
  • Bright Renewables
  • Bristol Energy Cooperative
  • British Solar Renewables
  • Canadian Solar
  • Ceiba Renewables Ltd
  • Centrica Business Solutions
  • Cero Generation
  • Certi-Fi Schemes Ltd
  • Community Owned Asset • Management Ltd
  • Cubico Sustainable Investments
  • Custom Solar Ltd
  • DNV UK
  • Downing LLP
  • East Green Energy
  • Eco2Solar Limited
  • EcoDev Group Ltd
  • Eden Renewables
  • EDF Renewables UK
  • EEC Home Improvement
  • Egni Co-op
  • Elgin Energy
  • Enhabit
  • Ennoviga Solar Ltd
  • FES Support Services Ltd
  • Foresight Group
  • Genfit
  • Grand Union Community Energy
  • Gravis Capital Management Ltd
  • Greater Manchester Community Renewables Ltd
  • Greencoat Capital
  • Green Energy Together Ltd
  • Green Nation
  • Greentech Projects Holding UK Limited
  • GRIDSERVE Sustainable Energy Ltd
  • GSE INTEGRATION
  • HBS New Energies
  • HIES
  • Hockerton Housing Project Trading Ltd
  • iChoosr
  • Infinis Solar Ltd
  • Innova Renewables Limited
  • Island Green Power
  • JBM Solar
  • Joju Solar Ltd
  • Land & Grid Ltd
  • LHW Partnership LLP
  • Lightrock Power
  • Lightsource bp
  • Low Carbon
  • Low Carbon Hub
  • Locogen
  • Meadowcroft Limited
  • Midsummer Energy Ltd
  • Mypower
  • Naked Solar Ltd
  • Namene Solar
  • Natural Power
  • Nerfsky
  • Next Energy Capital
  • Novus Renewables Services Ltd
  • Octopus Renewables
  • Orchard Community Energy Ltd
  • Photon Energy Ltd
  • Pinsent Masons LLP
  • Planet Save Ltd
  • PSH Operations
  • Public Power Solutions
  • Quintas Energy
  • Renewable Connections Development Limited
  • Repowering London
  • RES
  • ROC Energy Ltd
  • Segen Ltd
  • Sharenergy Co-operative Ltd
  • Solar2 Ltd
  • Solar-rise
  • Solarsense UK Ltd
  • SOLARWATT
  • Solivus Ltd
  • Statkraft
  • Stern Energy Ltd
  • Steag Solar Energy Solutions U.K. Ltd
  • SSE
  • Suan Ltd
  • SunGift Solar
  • The Solar Shed Ltd
  • Toucan Energy
  • Trust Renewables
  • Van Der Valk
  • Viridian Solar
  • Waxman Energy Ltd
  • Wind & Sun Ltd
  • Windel Energy Ltd
  • Zestec Asset Management Limited

‘Digitisation’ in the solar industry

04 April 2021:

When I was asked to be the chair of the Solar Energy UK Operations and Management working group I was initially flattered, then slightly apprehensive. For those of you who know me, I tend to have views on most things and an innate desire to make things better. So when considering if I should accept this role, it was the old adage, “Put up or shut up!” that led to me to saying yes.

I am a very passionate believer in the urgent need for the renewable energy transition and I am keen to bring my diverse background in engineering, aviation and technology to the solar industry through whatever channels I have to do so. I see my role in the industry to not just to grow a successful ‘solar tech’ business, but much more. If I can have any positive influence on the wider solar industry in helping it grow and prosper and ultimately deliver the carbon free energy we all crave, then it’s a win-win.

That’s the introduction bit out of the way, so on to the job in hand, this blog. I would like to point out that I have never written a blog before, but hopefully sharing ideas and insights which I glean through the course of running Above as well as chairing this working group will be of interest to you.

The working group is principally focused on developing best practice and driving innovation, and in the first session Prof Michael Walls from Loughborough University explained the various support mechanisms we can draw on in the UK, both academically and financially, to support innovation in the sector.

We also discussed some of the challenges that new technology is bringing to the sector, such as modelling albedo into the yield of bi-facial assets. We finished on a discussion around some of the issues we are experiencing in the UK’s aging asset fleet, such as delamination and back sheet degradation.

One thing that clearly pervades many of these challenges and issues is that their negative impact on the assets themselves and the industry, can be reduced through better use of technology. ‘Digitisation’ is a nebulous term and is often used as a catchall for any use of information technology in the sector, but I want to try to distil some of the hype into practical actions the industry can take.

I regularly see asset managers and O&Ms wrestling with problems that could either have been avoided or the impact considerably reduced if information, both current and historic, was readily accessible.

Simply being able to access and compile a full picture of a situation using service records, test results over time or warranty information, is often a major hurdle for many organisations. This is especially true with older assets and typically results in a protracted or sub optimal resolution. Its this fact that really underlines the importance of record compiling and maintaining with new assets.

The fact that assets are getting bigger increases the importance further and technology providers in the industry, such as Above*, are now offering solutions to address this challenge.

Watch this space.

*Other service providers are available.

Clean Energy Exchange Blog: Why are corporate PPAs relevant to water companies?

29 March 2021:

Levent Gurdenli, Weightmans

Procuring renewable power under a long term, fixed price corporate PPA is high up on the agenda for many water companies as they seek to decarbonise their intensive energy demand and protect themselves from volatile fluctuations in energy costs. The industry as a whole has ambitious plans to become carbon net zero by 2030. This strategy includes taking advantage of corporate PPAs together with investing in other forms of energy efficient technology and electrification. While water companies are likely to have land available to them to accommodate a certain volume of on-site generation, it may not be sufficient to offset all of their demand. As such, procuring renewable power under a “sleeved” or “synthetic” corporate PPA provides an exciting opportunity for water companies to achieve these targets. 

How does the risk profile of a corporate PPA differ from traditional methods of procuring power? 

Purchasing renewable power under a sleeved or synthetic corporate PPA is fundamentally different to traditional methods of procuring electricity. At present, corporate buyers procure their power from licensed suppliers. Some buyers are more sophisticated than others but, on the whole, it is a well understood process. In turn, the licensed suppliers procure their own power from a variety of different sources on the wholesale market, managing the balance of supply and demand in order to provide a baseload of power to the corporate buyer. A sleeved or synthetic corporate PPA has a very different risk profile to traditional methods of procuring power as it exposes the corporate buyer to the balancing role (and the risks associated with it) that licensed suppliers or utilities have traditionally dealt with. This presents a challenge for corporate buyers who need to understand what these risks are, how to manage them and how they could be mitigated before deciding whether or not a corporate PPA is right for them. 

What are the main risks for buyers to understand? 

Of course there are other issues which need to be dealt with in the negotiation of a sleeved or synthetic corporate PPA, but the three fundamental risks for a corporate buyer to understand are: 

  1. volume – where the renewable plant does not produce the volume expected from long term forecasts – e.g. due to weather related issues; 
  1. profile – though overall volume may be sufficient, where the hourly production from the renewable plant does not correspond to the buyer’s demand profile; and  
  1. price – losses occurring from adverse movements in market price of electricity. 

To illustrate this, consider that under a fixed price corporate PPA on a “pay-as-produced” basis (i.e. buying 100% of the output), the buyer’s total price for a MWh of power will only truly be fixed at times when demand and generation completely match. If the renewable plant over-produces then the buyer is paying for power which it may not need. If the renewable plant under-produces then the buyer (or licensed supplier on its behalf) will need to procure top-up “balancing power” from the market. The buyer is further exposed if this occurs at times when electricity prices are high. 

How can you manage or mitigate these risks? 

At Weightmans we work with corporate buyers to help them to understand the structures of these agreements, the risks associated with them and, ultimately, whether they are right for them. We can also advise clients how to manage these risks and what contractual levers can be pulled to mitigate them in the context of negotiating a corporate PPA. Changing the risk allocation in one area – for example asking the generator to guarantee certain volumes of power – will have implications for different aspects of the agreement, such as the price which can be offered or the term. A successful negotiation will involve exploring who is best placed to manage a particular risk, understanding the critical requirements of a generator and finding the contractual position which both parties can accommodate.  

The future of residential heat decarbonisation

15 March 2021:

Grant Feasey, AES Solar

Decarbonising heat is the next great energy challenge for the UK – Solar Energy can play a key role.

In 2019 – 91% of heat energy was sourced from fossil fuels. Heating and hot water in domestic buildings account for around 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK [1]. A lot of progress is required – and fast – to meet our climate obligations.

Gas grid dominance

Around 85% of homes are connected to the gas grid with the remainder often dependent on oil, LPG, solid fuel boilers or expensive electricity [2]. Gas is cheap, and all these sources are convenient and reliable – for now at least.

The solutions will need to be many to suit the variety of technical challenges, house types, budgets and personal preferences to be catered for.

Solar with everything

Solar can complement any other heat source to provide most of the domestic hot water requirement in summer months and reduce the energy required from other sources for domestic hot water and space heating during the rest of the year. It provides a significant portion of the heat energy requirement, emissions-free and zero cost at source.

It is already a standard option to include a solar coil or electric immersion heater on any hot water cylinder or thermal store. This allows solar thermal, solar PV or solar PVT to used to input heat in combination with any other heat source.

Solar Thermal usually only requires a couple of panels on a roof. Modern options are pleasing to the eye and can blend in much like a Velux window.

Solar PV is an obvious choice to provide the low carbon and cost-effective electricity needed to drive heat pumps. It can also be fed directly into the cylinder via an immersion heater. If roof space is limited then solar thermal can be a more space efficient choice.

Electricity demand is increasingly coming from other loads within the house or electric vehicles. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to include both solar thermal and PV, or good quality PVT, to efficiently generate heat directly and free up the available electricity for other things.  This may be particularly true where grid capacity is limited and therefore curtails the amount of PV that can be connected.

Alongside Oil, LPG and biomass, Solar thermal provides a viable option for homeowners to take a chunk off their carbon emissions and energy costs, all at a lower capital outlay than replacing a perfectly good boiler.

Utility-scale solar for domestic heat

Heat networks present a proven option to provide low carbon heat to a large number of buildings without putting the burden of upfront cost and decision making on the individual. And guess what? Solar works great with those too! The economics and technical feasibility have been proven for decades in other countries such as Denmark, Austria and Germany[3].

Hydrogen is a much talked about option to reduce reliance on methane gas. Solar PV could generate a significant share of electricity required to produce that hydrogen.

Turning up the solar heat

There are many talented organisations and individuals in solar heat, both in the private sector and in academic institutions involved in solar heat throughout the UK. They offer proven technology, innovative solutions and a strong skills base. A combination of progressive regulation, consistent and well-structured incentives and strong public awareness can build on that strong foundation. In turn, this can develop and grow the supply chain, reduce costs and establish a path to a sustainable, subsidy free contribution to low carbon heat and the economy.

The outgoing Renewable Heat Incentive has had an underwhelming impact – perhaps due to lack of awareness and the low attraction of drip-fed of money over several years. The Green Homes Grant in England – covering 66% of a system upfront costs (100% in some cases) – held much promise as a forebearer to a more longer term and punchy upfront grant scheme. Unfortunately, poor administration and badly calibrated policing have created something of a false start – the impact has been muted and the overall spend will be no more than 20% of the original proposed budget. Strong uptake by installers is still vitally important to demonstrate the demand and the potential.

Lessons must be learned and acted on to give the mechanism a fair chance to prove itself. The teething problems of the current scheme must not be allowed to be used as evidence against future incentives.

Similar initiatives can and do work. In Scotland, the similar ‘75% cashback’ scheme has been bolted onto the long running and very successful interest free loan offer. This means the administration and quality checking is managed by a proven and experienced entity using an established system. The impact has been far more noticeable, and anecdotally the experience of installers and end-users has been overwhelmingly positive. In Germany, the requirement for every part funded heating system to include solar has resulted in a 26% increase in deployment in 2020[4].

For new build, the future is regulation – specifically, the (very) long awaited Future Homes Standard [5] and building regulation updates now due to be fully implemented by 2025 including the mooted ban on gas boilers in new homes [6].

In Scotland it is estimated up to 90% of new homes now include solar thanks to progressive building regulation [7]. Industry and stakeholder engagement in the ongoing government consultations are vital to push for the adoption of the innovative policy details that could establish solar as a key part of the domestic heat puzzle UK wide. Solar is more cost effective to incorporate at build stage and it would mean a portion of the heat energy requirement is zero carbon for the lifetime of the building.

There is no one size fits all solution for low or zero carbon domestic heat. In every case, solar heat could – and should – be part of the future home.

Sources:

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/766109/decarbonising-heating.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/msoa-estimates-of-households-not-connected-to-the-gas-network

[3] https://wiki.energytransitions.uk/wiki/Solar_Heat_Networks

[4] https://www.solarthermalworld.org/news/demand-clean-space-heating-rebounds-germany

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-future-buildings-standard

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-47559920

[7] https://solarenergyuk.org/future-homes-are-solar-homes/

Happy Easter from Solar Energy UK

06 April 2021:

Solar Energy UK would like to wish our members a happy Easter and extend a message of thanks for your continued support throughout the year.

Spring is a time to celebrate new growth and honour the natural rhythms of the earth. As the evenings are drawing longer, and solar’s share of the electricity mix increases, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves that solar farms are the most nature-friendly way of generating power for the grid. A well-managed solar farm is teeming with biodiversity benefits, whether by allowing livestock to continue grazing, permitting small animals access to otherwise fenced-off land or bird and insect fodder plants and wildflowers sown around the modules.

To showcase the many contributions from our membership towards supporting biodiversity, Solar Energy UK is once again calling for members to submit their best photographs! These photos highlight the excellent work taking place across the industry, and support the Association to continue producing visually stunning content that shine a light on solar in the UK.

Entries are requested for the following categories:

  • Solar Roofs
  • Solar Parks
  • Biodiversity
  • Energy Storage and Emerging Technology

The winning entries will have their photos displayed at our exhibition stand at Solar and Storage Live. To enter please send your photos to Kara Davies (via email or WeTransfer). When applying please specify company name, competition category, location and type of installation, along with any other supplementary informationPlease note that all photos must have been taken in the UK, in 2020. 

The extended deadline for entries is Friday 30 April at 17:00 GMT.

What next for battery storage integrators?

08 March 2021:

Tadgh Cullen, Solarcentury

Tadgh leads the energy storage division of Solarcentury, recently acquired by Statkraft. Tadgh is a Chartered Engineer working in a commercial role that focuses on defining business models for co-located, and standalone energy storage developments both in the UK and abroad.

When you look back at how the solar PV industry has evolved over the last 25 years, it is possible to see many similarities to the battery storage space today, particularly relating to the procurement of systems verses individual components.

Battery storage projects in the UK have been dominated by system integrators, whose role is to offer a full battery storage system including components such as: battery modules; heating/cooling systems; enclosures; balance of plant; bidirectional converters; control, communication, and management systems; and a wrap on warranties.

However, is the role of the integrator about to diminish?

One of the main hurdles previously preventing project developers from taking on an integration role is about to be overcome. Designing a heating and cooling system that manages the temperature and humidity inside a battery enclosure is critically important to maintaining the battery module warranty, and this responsibility to date rested with system integrators. However, a growing number of battery manufacturers now offer a wrap including an outdoor rated enclosure, liquid cooling, and battery modules. Significantly, this removes an enormous component from the integrator’s scope.

Is this an attempt from battery manufacturers to cut out the middleman?

Answers supporting and opposing this statement have been heard, and while this is the first step in removing the system integrator, it is only one component in a complicated system. This leads us to the single most important part of the system that allows its seamless operation, and that is the communications.

Although demanding only a small proportion of the overall system capital costs, the communications between the different components is one of the most critical parts of a battery storage system. It is responsible for taking commands, and translating them into safe actions, maximising the life of the product, and doing this in markets that are now demanding the response to be within a hundredth of a second. 

So, an entire system fully dependent on a component with limited contractual value? This is where liability becomes an integrators best friend.

The limited contractual value of the component that ties the entire system together raises challenges in terms of liability, and in particular, the value of this liability. If every component is covered by its own warranty and liability, how can we determine and agree whose liability it is? Essentially the question is, who reimburses the customer for unplanned downtime? This is a  commercial challenge, not a technical one!

Will we get to a point where the procurement of separate components represents enough of a saving to warrant the uplift in risk? The answer to this lies with the integrators and the battery suppliers. Are battery suppliers willing to contract directly and at the same price for smaller order quantities? Are integrators willing to squeeze their margins to remain competitive?

Only time will tell.

A long but necessary road to sustainability

22 February 2021:

We spoke to Stefan Kintscher, General Manager for the Value Chain Integration Group at Hitachi, and Helen Grundy, Environmental Specialist at Hitachi, to see how they are approaching their journey to a more sustainable future. What became clear very quickly is that the company has been aware of its responsibility to help tackle climate change for some time and has, on a global scale, been increasingly focused on how it can achieve its ambitious decarbonisation targets.

Helen: “At the beginning of our current mid-term management cycle, we announced our aim of carbon neutrality throughout the business by 2030. Since then, a significant amount of time and resources have been dedicated to making this a reality. We started by using energy more efficiently, then generating renewable energy, procuring it and offsetting our carbon footprint. The enhanced efficiency of procuring sustainable energy as a group, rather than as separate businesses, is being realised. The company has always designed products that add value to people and the planet – we are now ready to take this one step further.”

Despite the growing enthusiasm and opportunity for increased energy sustainability, the transition to renewable energy sources is not without its challenges.

Stefan: “The first major challenge is the technology itself – there is a variety of options available and they are changing rapidly. Determining the best tech for different sites and for the business overall can be complex. The second greatest challenge is the cost. There is a lot of excitement and momentum among many business sectors to go carbon-free, but achieving this while remaining competitive is difficult. A balance must be found between adequate investment in renewable energy sources and still maintaining healthy project margins to prevent other areas of the business from suffering. At Hitachi, we use our scale, size and capabilities to offer world-class technology solutions while remaining highly competitive.

“As industry moves forward, it will be very interesting to see how all businesses fair in the journey to decarbonisation. Smaller companies often carry a lot of the innovation, but some may struggle to make the transition due to lack of capital or resources. We are using extensive internal teams to navigate the renewable energy procurement process – those without access to similar resources will need to find innovative ways to master the challenges. As such, I don’t believe that size alone will dictate success in the sustainable energy field. It’s about finding smart solutions that suit the individual business.”

Stefan and Helen point out that there are a huge number of aspects to consider when seeking renewable energy sources and each company will have unique constraints and opportunities. In order to overcome the issues and maximise on the benefits, they agree there is a profound need to simplify the procurement process, as this will increase accessibility to businesses of all shapes and sizes around the globe. Discussing other areas in which renewable energy suppliers or generators could support businesses in their decarbonisation targets,

Helen: “From an environmental and sustainability perspective, we need access to clear, robust reporting. This allows us to collate the data needed to manage and report on our energy use effectively.”

Stefan: “At Hitachi, we are very interested in working with the best of the best in each market. We get to know the energy suppliers or generators we’re interested in working with, exploring their energy procurement processes, investment in renewable tech, network solutions, charging vehicles and PPA solutions, including virtual PPAs, in addition to their reporting tools. Our aim is to choose the best fit for our ethos and company to help us achieve our carbon goal while staying as competitive as possible.”

Stefan will be presenting at the first Clean Energy Exchange 2021 webinar of the year, on 23 February. He will share the learnings of Hitachi’s journey to decarbonisation so far, highlighting the difficulties of the transition even for a global business like Hitachi with significant resources and incentives. He will also outline his search for strong and capable partners in the sustainable energy sector to potentially work with going forward. If this could be you, you can contact Stefan here.

Clean Energy Exchange 2021 is a webinar series produced by Solar Energy UK and Renewable UK. The first virtual event in the series will focus on the growth of clean energy in the technology sector, offering fresh insights into how technology companies are procuring renewable energy and investing in the green power infrastructure of the future. More information available here.

Scotland must set an ambitious solar target for 2030

February 10 2021:

Thomas McMillan, Savills.
Solar Energy Scotland chair.

As an Energy Director at Savills consulting on all renewables technologies across the UK for over a decade, one might wonder why have I decided to take on the role of Chair of Solar Energy Scotland.  It’s quite simple: in Scotland solar is regularly overlooked but has huge potential in helping to meet our ambitious net zero targets. I want to help showcase the technology to increase deployment in the country in which I live. 

Per head of population Scotland is leading the UK’s renewable revolution, with 11.8GW of installed capacity having been deployed at the end of Q3 2020.  Scotland’s electricity generation is now equivalent to approximately 90 per cent of our electricity consumption, yet over the same timescale, we have only installed 372MW of Solar.  This means that solar represents just 3% of all renewables in Scotland, a meagre contribution by anyone’s standards. 

The lack of investment into solar is a uniquely Scottish problem in the context of the British isles.  If you look at the UK as a whole 13GW of solar has now been deployed.  Scotland’s contribution represents just 2.5%, despite the fact we constitute a third of the landmass. There is a huge reservoir of resource that remains untapped. 

Now some people might argue that we have far more wind and rain here, and that this explains the subsequent gulf in technology and lack of solar deployment.  But it is perception rather than fact that is the key contributing factor here, casting a shadow over the Scottish sector and negatively influencing investors and policy makers alike.  If you take my home country of Fife on the East coast as an example, solar irradiance is 96% of that found around Birmingham.  Is this 4% really the main contributing factor to the poor uptake of solar in Scotland?

Unlike in England we have less competition for land here, creating a positive landscape for solar farms.  With a less dense population, residential dwellings have larger gardens for ground mounted solar, and fewer of us live in flats meaning homeowners are more likely to have a roof on which to install solar panels. 

The Scottish government has prioritised both affordable housing and fuel poverty; the creation of the 2019 Fuel Poverty Act cementing intent regarding the latter.  So with solar panels now able to deliver low carbon electricity more cheaply than mains electricity, the sector has an open door on which to knock.  In addition the large number of rural communities which have no access to Scotland’s gas network amplifies the possibilities for both solar PV and solar thermal where these technologies can be deployed in combination with others, such as heat pumps. 

Despite the many positive factors at play, a lack of political focus on solar energy has been a critical block to solar development in Scotland for many years.  Indeed barriers are in evidence throughout multiple government agencies, and it has been hard to break these down in an environment where wind energy is king. 

Solar developers and investors face a lack of permitted development rights in Scotland, compared to  England a Wales, along with excessive planning fees, making the planning process hugely challenging.  In addition business rates are creating an additional tax burden on companies wanting to invest in low carbon technology. The National Grid/DNOs treat 132kV connections as Transmission lines rather than distribution (as they are classed in England and Wales) This kills off many potential solar farms at the point of inception due to excessive costs to assess connection options. 

With significant investment into Scottish grid infrastructure in recent years for the deployment of wind, there is an enormous untapped grid potential for solar in Scotland if the DNOs apply sensible design methodologies that recognise that solar compliments wind generation and is likely to generate electricity when there is high demand for power.  At the moment solar does not have its own design methodology that recognises that there will be no export at night, this needs to change as it is limiting the deployment of solar as grid constraints are being identified where they do not exist. 

With key barriers removed Scotland is well placed to grow solar energy deployment to 4GW, more than ten times current levels, by the end of the decade, and an ambitious Government could potentially deliver as much as 6GW.  Not only would this contribute towards the country’s net zero ambitions but it would also create up to 6,000 highly skilled low carbon jobs for the Scottish economy.

As the new chair of Solar Energy Scotland I will be calling on the Scottish government to set an ambitious solar deployment target for 2030 so that real focus can be given to dismantling the development barriers that are holding back the industry.

Solar Energy Scotland’s members meet on a quarterly basis to bring together industry leaders and press for barriers to be removed so that the sector can reach its full potential. Details for the next meeting can be found here.  

Capacity conflict in 2021: bigger, badder and dirtier

February 08 2021:

Dr Richard Hall, Energy Transitions.
Solar Heat Working Group Chair.

Decarbonising the power grid was merely a prelude to the UK’s major net zero energy challenge; decarbonising the national gas grid. In the UK, residential and commercial heating demand is largely met with the direct burning of methane in boilers and the aggregate combustion products from these methane boilers is the single biggest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions1. This methane is delivered to almost every home and business in the UK via an extensive national gas grid.

Although it’s difficult to directly compare, the gas grid is something of the order of two times bigger than the power grid in terms of raw capacity to deliver energy2. Whilst I think we would all agree that the roadmap to decarbonise power and transport is clear, the heat sector is currently in a vicious battle for capacity dominance.

There are four great powers fighting in the heat capacity war: Big Gas, Big Heat Networks, Big Heat Pumps and Big Insulation. Big Gas wants to replace methane boilers with clean burning hydrogen boilers, Big Heat Networks wants hot water pumped to every house in every city, Big Heat Pumps wants a state-subsidised heat pump in every home and Big Insulation wants teams of retrofit co-ordinators working on every street. Whilst these incumbents fight it out to either defend, of eradicate, the UK national gas grid, the big question for us is, how can solar heat possibly compete against these great powers?

The good news for solar heat is that solar does not have to compete with anyone, we can just let them fight it out. Solar works just as well with a hydrogen gas grid as it does with a natural gas grid (in fact even better given the likely higher gas prices). Solar works great with heat networks, especially at the 20% level as commonly found in Denmark 3. Solar works great with heat pumps and solar works great in highly insulated houses. Solar even works great in a future where heat is simply directly electrified (think smart hot water tanks).

Although solar heat maybe a neutral party in the next capacity war, we do have to make the case that adding some solar capacity to the system will be beneficial in terms of energy security, affordability, and providing meaningful emissions reduction. Given the somewhat difficult past of solar thermal in the UK, it will not be that easy to persuade policy makers that solar has a role in heat decarbonisation.

Ultimately, the ability of the Solar Heat Working Group to come together to make a coherent case will define if solar will have the kind of positive impact on the national gas grid in this decade, that it had on the power grid in the last decade.

[1] BEIS, ‘Heat decarbonisation: overview of current evidence base’, GOV.UK, 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/heat-decarbonisation-overview-of-current-evidence-base.

[2] S. D. Watson, K. J. Lomas, and R. A. Buswell, ‘Decarbonising domestic heating: What is the peak GB demand?’, Energy Policy, vol. 126, pp. 533–544, Mar. 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2018.11.001.

[3] R. Hall, ‘Solar Heat Networks’, 2020. https://wiki.energytransitions.uk/wiki/Solar_Heat_Networks.

Set targets and reform tax to boost the rooftop markets

February 01 2021:

Jonathan Bates, Photon Energy.

The rooftop solar market in the UK has shown itself to be remarkably resilient, despite the three national Covid-19 lockdowns so far. Although the number of solar installations registered by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) dropped in line with other economic activity, the industry seems have recovered better than could be expected.

The latest MCS data shows that the number of domestic rooftop solar systems installed in November 2020 was the highest all year. This is encouraging, especially as 2020 was the first full calendar year after the end of the Feed-in-Tariff, the government scheme which provided a financial incentive to early adopters of rooftop solar power. It shows that consumers are recognising the merits of solar even without specific support.

As well as the domestic market, the commercial and industrial rooftop market also appear to be powering ahead. Anecdotal evidence suggests that levels of interest and enquiries have not fallen off due to the pandemic even though actual levels of installation may have slowed, with clients waiting to assess the full impacts of the pandemic before making a final decision to proceed. With payback periods of between five and six years, and rates of return of more than 20% achievable for larger rooftop systems, the sector is poised to expand rapidly over the coming year.

Whatever the full impacts of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, those of us who work in the industry know that solar power is clean, cheap, and very easy to install. When coupled with energy efficiency measures, there is no better way to reduce electricity bills than installing a rooftop solar system for industry, businesses, and homeowners alike. The contributions to emission reductions will also be significant.

The challenge is to ensure that there is a full recovery from COVID-19 throughout this year, and beyond. Solar can and should play a major role in helping the UK achieve its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and members of Solar Energy UK’s PV Rooftop working group will coordinate their efforts to help that happen.

It it vital that businesses have a stable environment to make decisions, and we must work together to ensure the government develops a clear, long-term plan for solar energy. This is important, because solar can deliver skilled, high-tech jobs to support the government’s intended Green Industrial Revolution.

The much-anticipated Energy White Paper published at the end of last year made plain the government’s intention to support offshore wind, and new – and as-yet unproven – technologies, such as hydrogen.

But even now, the government is strangely quiet on solar, given the fact that solar is a mature technology that is quick and easy to deploy, and can provide the power for other technology options already being rolled out, such as electric vehicles and the electrification of heat. If the UK does develop a hydrogen sector, solar can also provide the clean electricity needed to ensure its potential is reached.

The government ought to set a specific target for the deployment of solar, as it has done with wind, and address the multiple inconsistencies in how solar and energy storage technologies are taxed to boost uptake in the rooftop markets.

There are already a million solar homes in the UK and the residential segment can continue to make a major contribution to any target: Solar Energy UK research shows that installing solar coupled with battery storage and intellgent energy controls on one in every five dwellings would deliver huge benefits for both homeowners and the electricity grid alike, helping to provide stability across the system.

Combine this with the significant potential for the commercial rooftop market to take off over the next few years, and we will be well on our way to the 40GW target set by the association. All in good time.

Future homes are solar homes

January 25 2021:

Stuart Elmes, Viridian Solar.

It may come as a shock to some readers of this blog to learn that solar is not universally and unconditionally loved and appreciated.  When the benefits of solar are this obvious we ask ourselves, why would any new homes be built without solar?

With the exception of around 20,000 self-builders that pursue their own personal Grand Designs each year, the UK new housing market is 90% delivered by commercial organisations building homes to sell.  The person building the house is not the same person that will move into it and pay for its energy bills. 

Developers only add things to the homes they build that are either absolutely necessary (for example walls to hold up the roof), or that they believe will increase the sales price by more than the cost.  Although awareness of climate change and energy efficiency has increased among the public in recent years, the energy rating of homes still comes well below considerations such as how good the local school is and whether the worktops in the kitchen are made of sparkly marble.

I believe that it will not be too long before building a new home without solar will be seen to be as quaint and old-fashioned as putting a house on the market with an outside toilet, but in the meantime this ‘market failure’ to deliver low energy buildings for customers has created the need for regulation.  Building Regulations are intended to do just this job – enforcing a minimum level of energy efficiency on new homes.

The Current State of Play

England and Wales has seen a lost decade of progress with the cancellation of the Zero Carbon homes policy, an unambitious update in 2015 and complete inaction since.  Regulated carbon emissions from a home built in 2020 are only 29% below that of the same home built in 2006. Housebuilders can easily achieve the energy efficiency requirements in a gas boiler heated home with modest improvements to fabric (thermal insulation). 

In 2015 the Scottish Government brought in new building regulations that tightened the required energy performance well beyond that in England – a 45% reduction from 2006.  This level is difficult to achieve with a gas boiler and fabric measures alone.  So housebuilders either added PV and carried on with gas boilers, or replaced the boiler with a heat pump.

Four years later, Solar Energy Scotland was estimating that 80-90% of all new homes in Scotland were being built with solar PV panels. 

By contrast, the only bright spots for the solar industry in new build in England has been provided by Local Authorities using their planning powers under the Planning and Energy Act 2008 – normally to require a percentage of the energy demand of a new development to come from renewable energy.  Despite a Solar Energy UK report highlighting the good work of many Local Authorities, we estimate that only around 10% of homes built in England have solar PV as a result of such planning policies.

Future Homes Standard

Step forward the government’s “Future Homes Standard”, proposing a road map for building regulations that will result in homes in England being built to, yep, you guessed it, “World Leading” standards of energy efficiency.  Details were published this week following a much-delayed consultation process.  Here are the headlines:

Timelines

The changes will be made in two steps.  New 2021 Building Regulations Part L will be written into law in the Autumn and will come into force from June 2022, followed by a second update to Part L to deliver the Future Homes standard with a target that this is in force by 2025.  This may be coupled to separate legislation that prevents the connection of new developments to the gas network, which the Energy White Paper published in December proposed.

Changes to the Targets

A new requirement based on the Primary Energy consumption of the house will become the main target for designers.  The main reason for this change is that as the grid decarbonises, a target based on carbon emissions can be achieved by building a house without any glass in the windows but heating it with zero carbon electricity from the grid. 

The Carbon Emissions target remains, but is relegated to become a secondary target.

Proposals to ditch the Fabric Energy Efficiency target in favour of a Householder Affordability target have been dropped as a result of the consultation, with many respondents concerned that it could result in homes being built with lower levels of insulation.

These changes, particularly the move towards Primary Energy was argued for by Solar Energy UK.  This should be welcomed by the solar industry, which faced a situation where the benefit from on-site generation of heat and electricity would reduce as the carbon intensity of the grid falls.

New Performance Levels

For the 2021 Part L changes, two options were consulted upon.  Option 1 was for a specification that resulted in a 20% reduction in Carbon Emissions compared to Part L 2015, whereas Option 2 was for a 31% reduction.

With financial assistance from members, Solar Energy UK commissioned in-depth modelling of the two options by consultancy Think Three.  The resulting report concluded that developers could meet option 1 with modest changes to building fabric plus a combi boiler with flue gas heat recovery.  By contrast Option 2 would absolutely need PV if a gas boiler was retained for heating but could also be reached changing over to a heat pump which would then not need solar PV.

Our modelling also suggested that gas plus PV resulted in significantly lower energy bills for residents than heat pump alone.  Government seems to agree – stating in the consultation response that annual bills for regulated energy in a gas plus PV solution would cost £168/year whereas a heat pump would cost the resident £369 per year.

Government has decided to go for Option 2, which is excellent news for the solar PV industry.

For the 2025 standards the government will be setting at a level that mandates electrical heating and expects this to be delivered by heat pumps.

Transitional Arrangements

For all previous versions of the Building Regulations, take up was a lengthy process because they only applied to whole development sites.  Developers rush to submit planning applications in the run up to new regulations coming into force, banking large numbers of homes to be built under the old regulations and large sites of many hundreds of homes are built out over many years.

The 2015 Scottish building regulations change took around four years to feed through to a point where all new homes were being built to new standards.

The 2021 regulations will instead apply on a house by house basis.  Any development that was started before the new regulations come into force has 12 months to build to the old standard before new plots have to move over to the new regulations, so the ramp up in demand for solar could be much quicker than we experienced in Scotland after 2015.

What Does This Mean for Solar?

It’s not possible to say that these regulations will definitely result in solar on all new homes in England, because the standards are technology-neutral.  Although the defined specification includes solar, the developer is free to try to find alternative specifications so long as they result in a house that equals or exceeds the same house if it were built to the specification defined in the regulations – the so-called “Notional House”.

Technical departments at housebuilders will be busy now exploring different packages of measures that achieve the new regulations at minimum cost.  It’s a ferociously complex optimisation calculation, but they will eventually settle on their favoured specification to meet the new regulations.

I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that there will be solar on almost all new homes in England under the new regulations.

My reasoning is based on experience from the introduction of the 2015 regulations in Scotland. 

  1. Supply Chain.  An immature heat pump supply chain could not scale to meet demand caused by the regulations.  Constraints fed through into installation costs. The consultation response acknowledges that there is much work to do before heat pumps are ready for the big time in 2025.  By contrast subcontractors from solar, roofing and electrical backgrounds scaled up to meet the increased demand with comparative ease. 
  2. Customer Acceptance.  House-buyers are familiar with responsive heating systems that run intermittently at higher temperature.  Housebuilders found that they were having to spend time convincing people that their heat pump heating system was actually working.  Solar PV has proven out to be fit and forget technology.
  3. Running Costs.  Unless installed with PV alongside, heat pump technology will increase heating costs compared to boiler plus PV, by nearly double according to the governments consultation response.  Housebuilders will be wary of complaints from customers about high energy bills.
  4. Capital Costs.  The government reckons that a heat pump package has a lower capital cost than gas boiler plus PV.  However, the costs that were assumed for PV in the Impact Assessment were already out of date and will be further out of date by 2022. 

Every major housebuilder that we have discussed the new regulations with thinks that the answer to the question posed by the 2021 regulations is gas plus a PV solar system.

I’m going to go further and predict that the size of PV system installed in England will be higher than we currently see in Scotland.  A comparison of the specifications shows that the solar on the notional house is higher in England than Scotland (2.6kWp vs 0.8kWp for an 85m2 house) plus the English housebuilders have less scope to exceed in insulation, which is tighter or equivalent to Scotland in almost all building elements.

With all this in mind, it’s easy to make the case that the market for solar PV on new homes in England will grow to around 300MWp per year by 2024.

Bring it on!

The 2020s will see solar flourish

January 18 2021

Chris Hewett, Solar Energy UK

Solar energy in the UK has reached a tipping point for sustained growth over the rest of this decade. Our sector has shown great resilience throughout the pandemic and I firmly believe that by 2030 the UK will have at least 40GW of solar capacity installed. We will publish a report in early 2021 on how this vision can be achieved.

As the industry enters a new era, we are taking a new name and a new look to help us create those partnerships for industry growth. Our new identity, Solar Energy UK, reflects our diverse and growing membership of more than 230 companies. We will continue to represent and showcase the whole value chain of solar power, heat and storage.

Corporate and public sector energy procurement is helping to drive growth. Next year, we will be working with techUK to promote opportunities to their 800 member companies, as well as addressing the role of data technology, alongside working with other proactive sectors, including water, which has recently committed to deliver up to 3GW of onshore renewables by 2030.

This year will see solar projects compete in a CfD auction for the first time in six years, with the promise of more to come. This will further help stimulate the solar. Not all investors will rely on long-term contracts, however, the anticipated growth of flexibility markets will create other revenue streams for zero-carbon technologies including energy storage.

Solar plays a vital role in addressing the climate emergency, naturally, and there’s growing evidence of solar parks using good land management to create opportunities for nature recovery. We will be working closely with ecologists to promote best practice within our membership.

The residential market showed great resilience in 2020, and the combination of new building regulations and the extension of the Green Homes Grant to solar could drive significant growth. Our flagship research project in 2021 will collate evidence of how retrofitting a home with solar, energy storage and other zero-carbon technologies, can drive financial value.

We will also be doing more to engage the finance sector. In partnership with the Green Finance Institute, we will develop a confidence checklist for finance providers to help consumers manage the upfront investment to create smart solar home via green mortgages and other products.

In the 2010s, this industry needed Government support. The 2020s will see solar, energy storage and other renewables gain more independence and flourish. That is how Solar Energy UK, relaunching in advance of COP26 and a major year for climate action, will help the sector triple solar capacity to 40GW in a decade.

We need level heads and clear policy to build the future

January 18 2021

Mike Lanigan, Moixa
Residential and Commercial Energy Storage Working Group Chair

What a year 2020 was.  Coronavirus, Brexit, political turbulance in the US, and the ever-increasing gravity of climate change’s global impact.  The extent to which the status quo worldwide has been changed is unprecedented in recent years, and with so much rapid change comes a lot of uncertainty.  We go into 2021 with a government seemingly committed to driving a green agenda, but with the uncertainty of Coronavirus and the reality of Brexit still weighing over us.

This year is critical for addressing the climate emergency, with the UK hosting COP26 – helping to set policies for the world, on renewable energy, electric vehicles, household energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. The key question is how can British households help as well as benefit from these new technologies?

As the market for small scale storage increases, the role of software both to optimise batteries as well as aggregate into large fleets for grid services will drive additional value. Moixa is already seeing this in countries as far away as Japan where Moixa’s GridShare software connected over 25,000 small scale residential batteries, forming 250MWh of storage with a potential of 100MW of flex – equivalent to larger solar farms and power plants. The technology is at an inflexion point and will rapidly grow to managing GWs or ‘Virtual Hinkley’ levels of power, helping to deliver on COP26 and UN sustainability targets for low carbon energy.

Also, with many of us spending more time at home and seeing our electricity bills rise, we see the potential for a significant revival of solar installations, as well as smarter batteries benefiting from an increased availability of Time of Use (ToU) and electric vehicle off-peak tariffs.

In terms of incentives, we believe the key policy levers to facilitate small-scale storage will include zero interest loans / grants, using the Building Regulations to incentivise storage in new builds, inclusion of storage in the Green Homes Grant (GHG) and extending the 5% VAT on solar to storage-only installations as well.

Further structural changes to facilitate the small-scale storage market include development of MCS battery storage standards, development of domestic flex markets for participation and the recognition of storage by DNOs beyond simple generators (i.e. ability to import and export energy and provide grid services).

Recent government announcements on grants and incentives to decarbonise homes has been welcomed, but key technologies such as domestic energy storage systems (ESS) are yet to be included.

2021 will also see the continuing escalation in the uptake of electric vehicles (EV).  This will provide opportunities for grid management and balancing with the rapid increase in kWh of available energy storage. However, we need to be able to aggregate and manage these EV batteries properly to support grids or they will risk becoming an enormous challenge that will literally ‘choke’ the DNOs.  We need level heads, clear policy and a focus on how we build the grids of the future.

The outlook for rooftop O&M is very bright indeed

January 18 2021

Steve Williams, Clean Solar Solutions
Rooftop Operations and Maintenence Working Group Chair

In light of the ever-challenging working conditions in the U.K. during 2021 so far, it seems appropriate to discuss the challenges and trends that rooftop O&M will face for the rest of the year. 

As time progresses, we see the wider industry recognising that rooftop and ground mounted O&M are very different undertakings, requiring different skill sets and having differing price points.  I feel that 2021 will see the divide between the two arms be recognised more and see some O&M contractors specialising between one or the other.

The dreaded ‘C’ word still dominates headlines and as I write, working conditions for the U.K. continue to get tighter and tighter.  Although in the O&M arm of the solar industry we have the luxury of being classified as ‘essential workers’, even with this status I fear that the rooftop solar O&M industry will be impacted negatively.

As seen in Q2 of 2020, many rooftop O&M contractors understandably had restrictions placed upon their works by building owners and tenants.  They simply were not allowed on to site to carry out their works. 

This may well be the case as we head through Q1 and into Q2 of 2021.  Lack of access to buildings may well impede works considerably.

This may well push back O&M activities later into the year than planned and create a few issues.  The first may be the need to furlough some staff in certain companies, which is a sad, but realistic probability.  However, when restrictions are lifted there will be a huge backlog of O&M work to be done on systems and dates for attending sites will be at a premium.  It will require a more diligent approach to the logistics and planning of routes for companies, to ensure that their clients are serviced in a safe, timely and profitable manner.

With the progression of technology, asset owners becoming more knowledgeable and O&M companies become more sophisticated in their approach, this healthy combination may well lead to less physical site visits being performed.  For example, in years past, solar panel cleaning companies may have just gone to a rooftop array, cleaned the panels, produced a simple ‘before and after’ photographic report and walked away. 

However, some cleaning companies now look at the overall health of the system and are more observant as they clean.  Some now produce very detailed reports including information about signage, inverter status, cabling issues, loose panels and a whole host of other problems.  This can be reported back to the system owner and replaces the need for a visual inspection visit that may usually be completed by the main O&M company.  This can lead to either increased profit for the O&M company or a reduced O&M cost, depending on how the O&M company wishes to shape their business model.

Another trend which I feel we will see is consolidation of O&M companies.  Larger O&M companies who subcontract out specialist services such as panel cleaning, drone thermography or ground maintenance, may wish to bring these services in-house.  Rather than look to build these services from the ground up themselves, they may look to buy up specialist O&M companies, taking onboard expertise, established systems of work and skilled staff.  This will lead to a smooth integration of the new service.  The larger the portfolio under O&M management, the more attractive this proposition will become.

Despite the likelihood of a slow start to the year, the outlook for the rooftop O&M sector is very bright indeed during the latter half of 2021, as we look to play catch up for our clients and indubitably for our lives in general.

The secret to getting the Energy White Paper right

The energy landscape, like many other things, has changed dramatically since the turn of the century. When the last Energy White Paper was published, in 2007, coal served as the backbone of the grid, meeting 43% of UK electricity demand at a peak in 2012. Fast-forward seven years later and this has shrunk to little over 2%. Solar PV has gone from adorning the roofs of a few early adopters to more than one million installations across residential and commercial sites, and well over 1000 large-scale ground-mounted parks.

Globally, solar has been crowned the new energy king. This is bolstered by the emergence of, battery storage and electric vehicles as consumer mainstays, and commitments to achieving rapid decarbonisation being at the core of many business strategies across the industrial spectrum.

The Government’s new Energy White Paper has been anticipated for a couple of years now, its publication no doubt hindered by the uncertainty brought about by Brexit and, more recently, COVID-19. Many have bemoaned the continued delay, but this paper holds the potential to deliver a fundamental shift towards net zero, and as such we can afford to wait just a little longer. No stone should be left unturned as this Government seeks to drive policies which will produce a green economic recovery.

Solar’s role in this must not be overlooked. As a decentralised technology it provides high quality jobs from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and by the Government’s own reckoning is set to be the cheapest source of power for years to come. It becomes a no-brainer when you add this to its long lifespan, abundant popularity with the public, and its potential to support thriving ecosystems and biodiversity.

Indeed, the STA estimates that with moderate policy intervention in areas such as building standards and business taxation we could see upwards of 5,000 more jobs created annually in the solar and energy storage industries, and a boost of almost £1billion to GDP. These are not trivial figures – the solar industry has shown remarkable resilience to the Coronavirus crisis and stands ready to help deliver a rapid green recovery.

The White Paper should serve as an indicator of the UK’s net zero ambition for solar, batteries, renewable hydrogen and beyond, laying the foundations for a more holistic and ambitious approach to deliver low carbon energy. It is important that this Government’s aspiration for levelling up the deployment of renewable technologies is made clear, as well as how it intends to deliver the commensurate investments in infrastructure needed to support this, such as reinforcement of the grid.

The Government has already made its intentions around one particular renewable technology apparent, with a commitment to reaching 40GW of offshore wind by 2030. It must do the same for others that will serve as a significant part of the energy mix in the coming decades – especially solar PV, onshore wind, and battery storage.

Demand for these technologies is no longer being driven solely by policy, but is coming direct from large energy consumers. Major retailers such as Tesco and Amazon are investing millions, as are utility companies and local authorities. The Government’s role in driving uptake is now one that must facilitate the market by bringing down barriers, whether fiscal, regulatory or based on practicalities such as addressing skills shortages. An explicit target would act as the starter gun to refocus policy priorities.

For solar PV, any government target must be in line with the expert analysis of the Committee on Climate Change, which states that 54GW needs to be deployed by 2035 to remain on track for net zero and the UK’s carbon budgets. This equates to delivering 40GW of solar in the next decade, an ambitious yet entirely achievable figure that will help to focus policymaker’s minds and drive confidence across the industry that this Government recognises the real potential of solar energy in the UK.

With the world watching as COP26 looms on the horizon, and the time available to limit global warming to 1.5oC ticking away, it is incumbent on this Government to lead the way and deliver a comprehensive strategy that unleashes the true economic and ecological potential of renewable energy in the UK. Anything less will not be good enough.

Solar energy and the Green Homes Grant

Earlier in the Autumn the Government announced a £2bn package for a grants scheme to drive retrofitting in homes across the country to reduce carbon emissions. It generated great headlines, warm words from the environment movement and provided a tangible example of how the country might ‘build back better’. Hooray for the Green Homes Grant you might think.

Sadly, the delivery of the scheme has yet to match the rhetoric.  Yes, I know that sounds all too familiar right now. What is currently on offer has many flaws and unless the scheme changes significantly it will, at best, deliver a tiny proportion of what Ministers claimed and, at worst, pay for poor quality work, encourage mis-selling and actually damage the reputation of the existing retrofitting industry.

The solar energy industry is currently only partially impacted. Whilst solar thermal installations are eligible for a Green Homes Grant voucher, solar power and energy storage installations are not. Initially this seemed like a huge missed opportunity for the industry, but frankly under the current scheme rules, we have dodged a bullet. I suspect most STA members will not engage with the scheme at all until it has been improved.

Last week MCS Chief Executive, Ian Rippin, criticised the scheme as being ‘pushed through at breakneck speed without being properly glued together’, and we have also been hearing similar feedback direct from our solar thermal installers. Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert has called it a shambles. The main flaw is the requirement for the entire £2bn budget to be spent by 31 March 2021, after which there is nothing. Add to that the delay in release of the vouchers until November 2020 at the earliest, and the lack of resources available within the scheme administrators, and it is obvious that the scheme is undeliverable.

The MCS Helpline is handing a huge influx of customer enquiries, because they have people on the end of a phone, where other organisations haven’t had the chance to scale up. Installers themselves don’t have the resources to handle such an increase in inquiries which all need home visits, quotes and a lot of hand holding of customers, coupled with a real uncertainty about how the work will actually get paid for (see confusion on vouchers above).

Rest assured we have fed all of this back to the Government, as have many others. Officials are doing their best to improve the system, but until the Treasury extend the deadline for the scheme by 18 months at a minimum, the Green Homes Grant will be unfit for purpose.

The answers to the challenges are very clear. The existing £2bn Green Homes Grant budget should be available to spend until the end of 2022 and eligibility should be opened up to all zero carbon retrofitting options, including solar PV and energy storage. This would allow installers to invest in their workforce and create jobs, maximise the number of potential householders who might be attracted by the grant scheme and use the skills and resources of the best quality assurance scheme for zero-carbon retrofitting – MCS.

Once these no brainer changes are put in place there should be a proper consultation with industry on designing a long term scheme for retrofitting homes in line with net zero, out to 2030. This should integrate government grants with incentives for green mortgages, rolling out smart metering, EV charging and Ofgem regulation on network upgrading.

Solar’s synergies with nature

To avoid the worst of climate change there must be a rapid shift to clean energy. In tandem with efforts to reduce emissions from highly polluting coal and gas power stations, the UK is also tasked with restoring and supporting healthy ecosystems across the country to tackle a growing biodiversity crisis.

Large-scale PV technology can play an instrumental role in tackling both of these challenges, driving the UK’s shift to a zero-carbon economy while simultaneously enhancing natural capital.

Although it is challenging to measure on a global scale, in recent years many countries have reported a consistent decline in biodiversity. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that the UK was experiencing a decline in the abundance of priority species. Covering a range of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, statistics indicate that both the distribution and richness of many UK species has been in spiralling decline since 1970.[1] According to DEFRA, 40% of England’s habitats and 30% of priority species are still in decline.[2]

Britain’s solar industry is stepping up to the challenge. Experts from across industry and academia have worked together to develop tools that further enable solar projects to enhance the local environment, while continuing to generate an abundance of clean, low-cost power.

One example of this is the Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services (SPIES) tool, which summarises the best available evidence of the impacts of a range of land management techniques on ecosystem services at each site. SPIES brings together evidence from over 450 academic articles, specifically tailored to UK environments, and it allows users to filter evidence by desired ecosystem service, which then generates a list of tailored environmental management opportunities. Furthermore, users of the tool can qualify and, in most cases, quantify the value of ecosystem services at current solar parks and those in the planning pipeline, ensuring each site can maximise its promotion of biodiversity. [3]

In comparison with other energy generation technologies, ground-mounted solar has a significantly lower environmental impact overall, and can be successfully coupled with agriculture, aquaculture, and the built environment. Solar parks are temporary structures with an average life span of 25-40 years. They are secure sites, requiring little human disturbance, and with an infrastructure footprint typically covering less than 5% of the total area of a site. Where sited in an agricultural setting, they also offer a valuable fallow period for land that has been intensively farmed, allowing for the restoration of healthy, fertile soils.

Solar Energy UK’s Natural Capital Value of Solar Report published in 2019, provides clear evidence that solar parks which are well designed, constructed and maintained properly can have a net positive impact on the natural capital value of the land and support a wide range of ancillary ecosystem services.

One of the unique advantages to solar parks is the very minimal disturbance from humans or machinery after installation, which maximises habitat potential for a range of wildlife.[4] This synergy between PV and the natural world can be further enhanced through the creation of a range of different habitats including hedgerows, ponds, and wildflower meadows. Each solar site differs from the next, offering unique opportunities to optimise habitat value.

Drainage and on-site water management are also key considerations when planning a solar development. On any solar site, surface water must be adequately managed by implementing open draining structures such as swales or balancing ponds instead of sub-surface drainage. Solar parks will often feature a stable water management system, providing rich wetland habitations, which are in steep decline.

While solar park developers are always required to consider the environment in planning, many now are seeking ways to maximise the biodiversity contribution their projects can make. One recent example in the UK, is Britain’s most advanced park built by Gridserve in York The park consists of 90,000 bifacial panels, meaning they are able to harvest sunlight on both sides of the panel, increasing the amount of light captured. Bifacial panels by nature are more light-permeable and promote growth of wildflower species underneath the panels. But what really makes this site particularly special is the species of pollinating plants Gridserve have chosen to use. The exact species remains a company secret, however the science behind it hints that planting this reflective variety underneath the bifacial panels could promote a “boost” in solar performance.

Another exciting prospect is the Cleve Hill Solar Park, set to be sited in North Kent. The project is set to deliver a net biodiversity benefit of 65% owing to features such as a dedicated Habitat Management Area the size of 138 football pitches which will provide a home for a range of bird species including Lapwing, Brent Goose, Golden Plover and Marsh Harrier. Less than half of the total site area will be adorned with panels, with plans for a large open meadow area, likely to be one of the largest in South East England, in addition to woodland, hedgerows and grassland, providing habitat for a variety of wildlife.

With solar sites offering some of the best opportunities to deliver a vital boost to biodiversity in Britain, project developers are taking their responsibility as stewards of the land seriously. As this progresses, solar parks will increasingly become vital wildlife havens, serving the environment in ways that most other technologies cannot.

[1] https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69446/pb13583-biodiversity-strategy-2020-111111.pdf

[3] https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2016/spies-tool-aims-to-support-solar-park-developments/

[4] https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/The-Natural-Capital-Value-of-Solar.pdf

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