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Progress on solar power “significantly off track” says CCC

Solar Energy UK 
28 June 2023

Solar photovoltaic generation capacity needs to rise faster for the UK to reach its carbon targets, according to the latest report from the Government advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC).[1]

“Renewable electricity capacity increased in 2022, but not at the rate required to meet the Government’s stretching targets, particularly for solar deployment. Given short leadtimes, rapid deployment of onshore wind and solar could have helped to mitigate dependence on imported gas during the fossil fuel crisis,” says the body’s progress report to parliament.

It goes on to describe the development of solar power as being “significantly off track”. Eleven of fifty key performance indicators share the same status.

The report notes some progress over the past twelve months, most notably the commitment to publish a solar roadmap next year, outlining how the UK’s 70GW target for 2035 will be met. Solar also secured 2.2GW of Contracts for Difference, while the first phase of the Green Home Finance Accelerator opened in May.

“The CCC is right to conclude that solar energy growth must increase markedly  for the UK to reach its climate and energy targets. But I have every expectation that next year’s report will reach very different conclusions,” said Solar Energy UK Chief Executive Chris Hewett. “By then, the taskforce, which I co-chair with energy minister Graham Stuart, will have outlined what needs to be done to resolve the sector’s key blockers to growth and maximise its contribution to jobs and the economy.”

Furthermore, the CCC’s report does not mention progress on changing the way that long queues for grid access are managed, and the approval of EDF’s Longfield solar farm to days ago – now the largest with planning permission.[2]

Solar Taskforce

Speaking at Solar Media’s UK Solar Summit yesterday, members of the taskforce provided an update on its work, ahead of the first meetings of its sub-groups next week.[3] They spoke alongside Chris Skidmore MP, who recommended the formation of the body in his Net Zero Review.[4]

“I was keen on the Net Zero Review to prioritise solar – right to the point of slapping it on the front cover,” he said, adding that photovoltaics “stood out as the cheapest way” to deliver decarbonised power. The taskforce’s job now is “to remove the debris from the tracks”.        

A key blocker is prohibitively long waiting times to connect to the electricity grid. Lawrence Slade, Chief Executive of the Energy Networks Association and chair of the Taskforce’s Electricity Networks Sub-group, said that some projects in the queue “will never move ahead”. But taking them out requires “regulatory air cover” to prioritise shovel-ready projects.

Nevertheless, “we are not waiting for elections” and are making reforms, he told the conference, saying that 7GW were moving around the queue this year.

Ben Fawcett, Head of Solar at EDF Renewables, said that grid operators need to have incentives in place to speed up connections. The reform would “unleash a new dynamic”, the industry currently being governed by cost minimisation, he said.

Mark Wakeford, Chair of EvoEnergy and Chair of the Skills Sub-group ,  said that skills and recruitment are not easy to solve, the solar sector being in competition with others. We are going to have to find ways of attracting people,” – not just school and university leavers but staff from “some of the dying industries” and people looking to change roles. There is clearly a need for foundation courses and apprenticeships, he added.

Battery energy storage

In contrast, the state of energy storage is unambiguously good, being marked by the CCC as one of only nine indicators on track. This is “due to a considerable pipeline of grid-scale battery storage in development, assuming these are able to gain network connections,” says the report. It estimates that grid storage output capacity is currently around two gigawatts, which will need to rise to 7GW by 2025 and 8-9GW by 2028.

But the sector, closely tied to the solar industry and represented by Solar Energy UK, is making considerable headway towards this goal. Storage capacity will “more than double by next winter,” according to the CCC, with 2.3GW of new-build systems contracted to be delivered in 2023/24 under a recent T-1 Capacity Market auction. A further 5GW secured contracts for delivery in 2026/27 in the T-4 auction. Overall capacity in the pipeline runs to around 50GW, says the report.

[1] CCC 2023 Progress Report to Parliament

[2] Longfield Solar Farm: development consent order, Planning Act 2008

[3] UK Solar Summit

[4] Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero – final report

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Editor’s notes:

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