UK set to double solar capacity by 2030, but more required to help reach net-zero

The UK is on course to double its solar capacity by 2030, but will need to treble it if the nation is to meet its net-zero target for 2050, with Solar Energy UK calling for overhauls to policy to spur the national market.

Trebling solar capacity would see carbon emissions fall by 21.2 million tonnes annually, equating to 4.7% of the UK’s emissions in 2019

Trebling solar capacity would see carbon emissions fall by 21.2 million tonnes annually, equating to 4.7% of the UK’s emissions in 2019

The non-profit Solar Energy UK has published a new report that outlines how an additional 40GW of solar capacity can be unlocked by 2030 to keep the nation on track for its net-zero target.

According to the report, UK solar capacity is set to more than double by 2030, but this would be behind the required capacity rate recommended by the Climate Change Committee (CCC). It would leave the nation 11GW behind CCC recommendations.

In December, the Government launched a 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 by 2050.

Under some scenarios being explored by the Government, solar PV capacity could reach between 80-120GW of capacity. This is in alignment with the CCC's 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.

Solar Energy UK is therefore proposing a set of policy amendments that would treble solar capacity compared to current levels. An end to VAT for solar systems and continuing to make the technology available for Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions are two such ways that the Government can spur solar deployment.

Trebling solar capacity by 2030 would deliver an array of benefits, according to the report. Carbon emissions would fall by 21.2 million tonnes annually, equating to 4.7% of the UK’s emissions in 2019. It would also create thousands of new jobs, at an estimated £17bn in additional economic activity.

Solar Energy UK’s chief executive Chris Hewett said: “Solar companies up and down the country are in a strong position to deliver the growth needed to meet the UK’s climate commitments. However, the Government must act now to accelerate deployment to ensure their net-zero targets are met. Jobs, economic growth, and a massive reduction in carbon emissions are all up for grabs.

Solar’s rebound

The nation’s solar sector is currently rebounding from the dual disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic and closures to subsidy access. Around 175MW of solar generation capacity was installed across the UK between January and March, according to Solar Energy UK, compared to just 60MW in the same quarter of 2020.

The UK’s total installed capacity is now 14GW – of which more than 1GW is classed as completely subsidy-free.

Indeed, global energy investment is likely to rebound to pre-pandemic levels this year, with most finance going towards renewables. The 2021 edition of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Investment report forecasts a 10% year-on-year increase in global energy investments, bringing levels to almost pre-pandemic proportions.

The IEA believes that 70% of the total amount that will go towards generation this year will go towards renewables. Solar and onshore wind are likely to be the most attractive options in most geographies, with average installation costs down by 10% and 5% respectively.

At a corporate level, the Climate Group has announced that its RE100 scheme – designed to help businesses set targets to procure 100% renewable electricity – has reached 300 large business members. Recent sign-ups include Heineken and Epson.

Collectively, RE100 members use 319TWh of electricity annually. This is more than the annual demand of Italy. Many of the firms are aiming for 100% renewables this decade, with 77 having already met 90% of their annual electricity demand with renewables.

Matt Mace


CfD | net-zero | renewables | solar | technology



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