COP26: Solar Energy UK highlights growing interest in solar energy and rooftop colocation

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According to RES’s Lucy Whitford, there is investor demand for co-located and hybrid projects, which benefit from solar power as well as storage and other renewables.

To coincide with Energy Day at the COP26 climate conference on Thursday 4 November, the Solar Energy UK trade association hosted a series of panel discussion sessions on growing solar on the ground and on the roof , and how they fit into the larger framework of decarbonization.

The Lighting up COP26 program brought together executives for three discussions, with an opening speech from Solar Energy CEO Chris Hewett, who highlighted that we have entered a “virtuous cycle” in which more solar energy is built. , the less it costs, thus encouraging growth.

Hosted at Energy UK and RenewableUK’s Energy Transition Hub sponsored by RES, the sessions addressed the key benefits of solar – such as trade tariff changes and benefits for biodiversity – as well as the challenges it faces in the context of the global supply chain.

Solar energy portal listened to the sessions to learn more about how electricity prices are stimulating solar growth and the shift in storytelling that needs to happen to help it go even further.

Investors want to see solar and storage collocated

One of the main conclusions of the first session was investors’ desire for co-located solar and storage projects in the UK.

“Investors will want to see combined renewables, whether colocation or hybrids,” said Lucy Whitford, Managing Director of Development and Construction for UK & I at RES. “We must also innovate, bring investors [into the sector]. “

This is particularly boosted in the solar sector, as investors now have an underlying understanding of the photovoltaic market, added Ross Grier, managing director of NextEnergy Capital. As such, it is easier to create innovative solutions – such as co-location – in addition to the underlying business case for solar PV, as this provides a level of convenience for investors.

While investors are increasingly confident in solar PV, people in general are still largely unaware of the benefits, according to Sam Cranston, director of energy infrastructure at Copper Consultancy. More work needs to be done to communicate them, for example the biodiversity benefits of large-scale solar power, which people are often not aware of.

Another advantage of solar power is the correspondence between the production curve and the demand curve for electric vehicles (EVs), noted Toddington Harper, CEO of GRIDSERVE. As such, solar power can help minimize the impact of recharging vehicles on the grid in the future and lower the cost of recharging for consumers.

The cost of solar power has fallen by more than 90% over the past decade, increasing its attractiveness for use in electric vehicle charging stations, among others. If it can scale to meet the 40 GW target demanded by Solar Energy UK, it could meet 10% of UK demand by 2030, even with the growth of electric vehicles driving global demand for electricity. higher electricity.

Overall, the panel praised the government’s Net Zero strategy for the certainty it provides for decarbonization in the UK. Grier noted that while it’s easy to be pessimistic about such policy documents, “having a plan is an important step” because it provides the industry with clarity.

Cranston agreed, adding that in the future, “the devil [will be] in details ”, while the way in which the strategy will be implemented is further developed.

Changing the solar story

In the second session of the day, the Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, called on the solar sector to change its rhetoric.

He warned that the sector can get caught up in the technical details of solutions, but must develop a vernacular that would allow it to reach a much larger group of the population.

Instead of focusing on the technical details, you need to tell the story, he said, showing how solar fits into people’s lives.

“I end by saying, I ban the expression kilowatt-hour in climate change,” said Lord Deben, continuing to note that the expression generally means nothing to people. Instead, focus on something physical and tangible when promoting solar.

The next step for solar power is “to get people to like it, in a way that you only do if you have a better story.”

He also praised the Net Zero strategy – which largely follows recommendations previously made by the CCC – but pointed to challenges within the system that left some areas lacking in detail.

In particular, land use – which will be key to deploying solar power on a large scale – was lacking due to the siled nature of government, meaning it is managed by the Department of the Environment, of Food and Rural Affairs rather than by the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industry. Strategy.

The land planning system has not been updated to reflect the UK’s net zero commitment, which often puts the brakes on renewable energy development work and is part of the reason the development Cumbrian coal has gone that far, said Lord Deben.

It’s not that people are mean, he added, “it’s just that we have a structure that hasn’t caught up with” net zero.

Meeting the demand for solar energy on rooftops

In the final session of the day, the panel focused on the burgeoning rooftop solar market, which has seen demand increase in recent years. This has been affected by a number of factors, including people focusing on home improvements after the pandemic.

Consumer sentiment is very supportive of rooftop solar power, aided by the development of technology that has become more aesthetic as well as more efficient and affordable in recent years, noted John Southern, head of product development and marketing. strategy at HBS Group.

In recent months, volatile electricity prices – which are expected to remain high all winter – has also increased interest in rooftop solar. Jason Howlett, CEO of Segen, explained that the high prices had accelerated the adoption of solar, pushing those already considering the technology to take the plunge.

John Roper, senior renewable energy consultant at EvoEnergy, agrees, adding that this is the ‘shot in the arm’, the extra boost businesses and individuals need to embrace solar power. . Particularly for businesses, the static nature of electricity prices when you have a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or the like provides businesses with a welcome level of certainty, reducing the risk of their future operations.

Interest in rooftop solar power is expected to continue to grow in the coming months, helped by the trade rate changes recently announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his fall budget.

This is just one example of how legislation has changed to create a more supportive environment. Although it is not the only driver of solar energy, “legislation is now something that supports solar energy rather than hindering it, as we have seen before”, as the Southern noted.

While rooftop solar barriers have undoubtedly been overcome, helping the sector grow with installations reaching a new record high of 97 MW in the third quarter of 2021, many challenges remain, particularly around the chain of supply and availability of labor.

This is being felt globally, with Howlett noting that “this year has been unlike any other,” everything has been thrown into the solar sector supply chain. A shortage of polysilicon, among a number of other challenges, has led to a shortage of panels and an increase in the cost of solar photovoltaic energy.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the solar sector must come together to increase training options, making full use of apprenticeship programs and other avenues to ensure growth is not hampered by a lack of qualified solar engineers and installers.

You can watch the full COP26 Lighting up sessions below:

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