In the context of the green transition, it is imperative to start considering alternative sources of clean energy. But as Britons, it’s understandable that we might be sceptical as to the capacity of solar energy to sustain our demands as a nation. Given our less than clement climate most of the year, we wouldn’t blame you for asking yourself if there is a U.K. solar industry, let alone an opportunity to speak of.
But with energy bills and the cost of living surging, and as public consciousness around the climate crisis grows, and the on-going public debate about the desirability and effectiveness of the “Green Levy” heats up, solar energy looks to be a viable solution that will help us meet our commitment to net zero by 2050.
This article aims to give you a brief overview of the uk solar industry, looking at the current state of solar power and its potential for the future.
Solar energy is an integral part of moving towards a green economy, helping not only to power homes and decarbonise our heating systems, but to drive the uptake of electric vehicles, for example.
The UK trade body for the solar energy industry ‘Solar Energy UK’ divides the solar power into three categories: residential, non-residential and ground mounted.
Within the context of soaring gas prices, the rooftop solar market in particular has understandably experienced growth as homeowners seek to combat rising living costs.
According to Solar Energy UK, 1 in 25 buildings in the UK has solar technologies, meaning they have the means to capture solar energy and use solar power. In the first half of this year alone more than 0.5GW of new solar technologies were installed. At a national level, the aim is to reach 40GW of cumulative deployment by 2030.
With the assistance of subsidies, the growth of all three solar markets (as divided by solar UK) has enjoyed a steady upward trajectory.
When talking about solar energy, it’s important to understand that it’s possible to efficiently store any surplus energy that is produced. This includes the use of water reservoirs or batteries. Indeed, there are plans for EV batteries to have the ability to store and release power into the national grid (‘vehicle to grid’).
The natural elements inherently affect the UK Solar Industry. Solar power depends, obviously, on the sun. This means that the production of solar energy is linked to the time of day, the weather, and the season. The impact of this is that solar power technologies can fluctuate in the levels of power that they are able to produce. However, as we mentioned, since it’s possible to store surplus energy, theoretically homeowners will not be left without sufficient power.
Efficient energy management depends on the collection and use of data, including power and load forecasting. This requires the continual improvement and innovation of data management systems such as via the use of the Internet of Things.
Finally, as a country-wide source, solar has the advantage of providing an opportunity to innovate power generation at community levels. For example, companies and communities can create “solar farms” at a local level which can remove the need for individual residential solar panels and provide an efficient, locally aggregated, basis for storing excess energy or selling energy to the national grid.
With ambitious targets for decarbonisation and a comprehensive green transition, Solar Energy UK is understandably calling for overhauls to policy to better stimulate the national solar energy market.
In January 2020, the UK Government launched a programme called the ‘Smart Export Guarantee’, known as SEG. It requires some SEG Licensees (electricity suppliers) to pay SEG Generators (small scale generators) for low-carbon electricity that they can pour into the national grid. Energy companies who serve 150,000 or more customers must provide at least one SEG tariff.
Essentially, this means that UK homeowners that have installed solar photovoltaic systems (and who fit the criteria) can become SEG Generators. It is up to the Licensees to determine how much they pay the Generators, as well as any other relevant terms.
Though this should, in theory, incentivise private homeowners to retrofit their homes with solar panels, there are currently no grants for the installation of solar panels. This is a problem since consumers need to make a substantial up-front investment to install solar PV systems.
Instead, there is a more generic Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) which applies to a wide range of ‘energy saving home improvements.’ However, homeowners seeking to install solar panels can use this Green Deal to get a loan from the government if they can’t fund the installation themselves. The Green Deal also helps you to find a provider if you are unable to find anyone to carry out the work.
With the UK gearing up for a future dominated by renewable energy, the solar energy market seems set to accelerate its growth.
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