Government ponders 120GW of solar to help reach net-zero

On the same day that the Energy White Paper was unveiled, the Government also launched a new consultation on how financing and deployment of renewable technologies can accelerate action towards net-zero, with up to 120GW of solar capacity mooted as a means to quadruple green energy nationally.

Government ponders 120GW of solar to help reach net-zero

Under some scenarios being explored by the Government

The Government has launched a consultation to gain views on how renewables deployment can be accelerated in the UK. The call for evidence, which runs until 22 February, notes that renewables generation could see total capacity quadruple by 2050.

A range of scenarios will be modelled and explored, and responses will be used to tweak the current Contracts for Difference (CfD) mechanism for future allocation rounds. The next CfD auction is aiming to double the amount of renewable energy procured, with 12GW of wind and solar energy being targeted.

The Government has confirmed that the fourth round of the CfD scheme will open in late 2021 and will aim to double the 5.8GW of renewable capacity procured in the previous round. Up to 12GW of renewables are being targeted to assist with the nation’s net-zero emissions target for 2050.

The number of technologies supported by the scheme will also be expanded in the latest round, with offshore wind, onshore wind, solar, tidal and floating offshore wind projects all eligible to bid. It marks the first time that floating offshore has been eligible for the scheme and the first time since 2015 that onshore wind and solar have been included.

As part of the new call for evidence, the Government is considering the growth of the solar PV market. While hydrogen and wind energy have been key pillars of the Ten Point Plan and the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), solar has been less of a focal point to date.

However, under some scenarios being explored by the Government, solar PV capacity could reach between 80-120GW of capacity. This is in alignment with the Climate Change Committee’s new advice, which states that 75GW-90GW of solar capacity will be required to meet net-zero, while the National Infrastructure Commission has claimed that more than 120GW will be required.

Commenting on the call for evidence, the Solar Trade Association’s (STA) chief executive Chris Hewett said: “Solar’s contribution to a decarbonised electricity system and net-zero economy is clear. We look forward to seeing the Government’s plan to maximise the potential of cheap onshore renewables and clean energy storage.”

“Additionally, we welcome the Government’s recognition in the White Paper that solar, storage, and smart controls will be central to decarbonising homes, heating, and transport, and encourage a commitment to clear targets for the deployment of these technologies.”

It has been another record-breaking year for solar in the UK. Solar use in the UK broke an all-time daily peak generation in April, accounting for almost 30% of UK electricity demand, with the UK also operating for a record-breaking period without coal.

Earlier in the year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) approved what is set to be the UK’s largest solar farm, located in Kent. Development consent has been given for Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy’s £450m Cleve Hall solar farm, located outside of Faversham close to the village of Graveney in Kent. BEIS has also confirmed that a 50MW electrical storage and connection infrastructure located on the site has also been approved.

However, BEIS statistics show that 43% fewer small-scale PV installations were made across the UK in February 2020 than in February 2019 – a trend the department attributes almost entirely to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT closure). This is despite the introduction of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), designed by BEIS to ensure that businesses and residents creating and exporting solar electricity to the grid will be guaranteed payments. Unlike with FiTs, the SEG payment comes from energy suppliers rather than central Government. 

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie