Less than two weeks remain in this decade, and what a decade it has been for renewable energy and solar in particular. As a technology and UK industry, solar has grown from niche to mainstream. Solar in the UK has faced its ups and downs, but the ride on the solar coaster has finally ended. Steadier, more stable times lie ahead, and the STA will now support the industry through a decade of huge potential growth.
This decade saw solar deployment levels in the UK climb from very low levels to 14 gigawatts across more than 1,050 solar parks and over a million roofs, thanks, in part, to the Feed-in-Tariff and Renewable Obligation, which were both hard won in the early days, and vigorously defended later on. The FiT put the power to invest in solar in the hands of households, businesses and community groups across the country. Homes, schools, hospitals, churches, breweries, football stadiums, and many more types of buildings besides now adorn solar, benefiting from cheap, clean power at source. While the RO gave investors the certainty to back an unprecedented expansion of solar parks across the country, which have not only accelerated the closure of coal power stations, but are also becoming havens for biodiversity.
Early-adopters of the technology have helped to drive costs down by more than 80%, and are contributing to an evolving energy mix, with solar now meeting 4% of the UK’s annual electricity demand. Large-scale solar now outmatches offshore wind and new gas-fired generation on cost-effectiveness, and sits on a competitive footing with onshore wind, despite both technologies being frozen out of government-led clean power auctions.
The UK’s most popular energy technology will undoubtedly play a significant role in the transition to a net zero economy, particularly in the drive to decarbonise the power sector. In the next decade, the last UK coal plant will close and it is vital that we start to reduce natural gas use as well. Solar is able to thrive as a local source of energy close to the growing demand caused by EVs and the decarbonisation of heat. Energy storage then adds the flexibility than an energy system running on renewables needs.
The Committee on Climate Change estimates that the UK will need at least 40GW of solar by 2030 to keep on target for net zero. Given what we have achieved in this decade, there is no doubt this is both technically achievable and economically prudent. The STA will be working closely with investors, corporate energy buyers, local authorities, network operators and the construction industry to reach this target, indeed many have already put their shoulder to the wheel, presiding over a plethora of leading projects over the past few years. The urgency of tackling climate change is now widely accepted and solar is a reliable, cost-effective way that everyone can produce clean energy.
But even under an optimistic business-as-usual scenario, we will need Government and regulators to ensure that the market is able to provide by establishing a robust policy framework and bringing down barriers to deployment across all scales.
Lifting the ban on solar for CfDs, amending Ofgem’s mandate to incorporate net zero, business rates reform, improved housebuilding standards, scrapping VAT for solar and battery storage, and providing a floor price for small-scale solar power exports are some of the key policies that must be delivered with urgency. It is time to match ambition with action.
There is plenty of work to be done in 2020, and so we at the STA hope you all enjoy a well-earned rest.