Seizing the solar surge: How UK businesses can forge a path to energy resilience

EXCLUSIVE: Amidst soaring energy costs and increasing pressure to align with net-zero, businesses across the globe are turning their gaze towards the sun. edie asks Solar Energy UK’s chief executive Chris Hewett about the progress in corporate solar energy adoption in the UK, and how it can be accelerated.

Seizing the solar surge: How UK businesses can forge a path to energy resilience

Last year, approximately three-quarters of the world’s newly added renewable energy capacity was attributed to solar power. At the same time, corporate funding for the solar sector surged by 42% year-on-year.

We ask Solar Energy UK’s chief executive Chris Hewett why solar had such a success story in 2023.

He emphasises that this trend is driven by multiple factors. Primarily, the escalating price of electricity, coupled with volatile gas prices, has compelled businesses to seek alternative energy sources to mitigate operational costs.

A recent PwC survey of 750 UK organisations found that nearly one-third of businesses are taking action in response to increasing energy costs. These actions include reviewing energy procurement strategies, improving energy efficiency and adopting corporate power purchase agreements.

However, beyond mere economic considerations, there’s a shift in the way businesses perceive energy consumption, viewing it not only as a cost to be minimised but also as an opportunity for investment in long-term resilience and innovation.

Nevertheless, Hewett points out that the UK’s transition to solar energy is progressing at a slower pace compared to its counterparts in the EU.

More than 14.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity has been installed in the UK on a cumulative basis, with one-third coming from rooftop solar.

In contrast, solar capacity growth in Germany reached 14.1GW in 2023, nearly double that of 2022, driven by a surge in private solar installations and a considerable increase in ground-mounted and commercial rooftop solar capacity. This means that Germany installed nearly the entire installed capacity of the UK in just one year.

Hewett says: “There are certainly opportunities to increase the deployment of rooftop solar in the UK to that level.”

However, even with the potential opportunities, significant barriers are preventing widespread adoption of solar energy by UK businesses.

Obstacles to solar adoption

Hewett identifies three primary obstacles to businesses adopting onsite solar: complexities in securing rooftop installations due to complex planning permission processes, constraints in grid connections and limitations posed by traditional solar panel technology, which often renders commercial roofs unsuitable for installations.

In November of last year, the Government took a step forward to eliminate one of these barriers: the requirement for planning permission for rooftop solar projects. With the new regulations in place, businesses with flat roofs can now install panels without the need for planning permission

Moreover, the previous rules mandating planning permission for solar arrays with a capacity of more than one megawatt of electricity have been abolished.

When it comes to grid connectivity, Hewett notes that the challenge is twofold – to do with reality and assumptions.

Large rooftop projects do face obstacles due to a lack of grid capacity. But not all of them. In some cases, business hesitancy is founded in a misunderstanding of how the energy system will operate.

Hewett explains that even though many companies intend to consume all the solar power they generate themselves, they’re still required to have a grid connection assuming they’ll export surplus energy onto the grid.

Additionally, Hewett highlights that there’s a similar issue with co-located battery energy storage systems and solar farms. Despite their combined capacity not outputting simultaneously, they’re forced to procure a connection that exceeds their actual output capacity, creating unnecessary hurdles.

“These seem to us nonsensical barriers which need to be addressed,” says Hewett.

Solar Taskforce and policy shifts

To tackle these policy hurdles and expedite solar adoption across the UK, the Government established the Solar Taskforce as part of its revised Energy Security Plan.

This initiative was prompted by recommendations from Chris Skidmore’s Net-Zero Review, which called upon the UK to set an ambitious target of hosting 70 GW of solar capacity by 2035.

Hewett, leading the Taskforce in collaboration with Nuclear and Renewables Minister Andrew Bowie, tells edie that barriers resulting from policy inefficiencies are currently being addressed by the Taskforce, which is nearing completion of its work. An anticipated report is expected to be published around April.

Additionally, discussions are currently underway regarding Future Building Standards for new commercial buildings. Hewett notes that if the Government’s proposed option is adopted, it will mandate that all new commercial structures allocate a portion of their roofs for solar energy utilisation by 2025.

Hewett says: “While that is a good step forward, a lot of the progress depends on communication and raising awareness amongst energy consumers.”

He suggests businesses to perceive solar investment as a means to maintain stable energy costs for decades ahead, emphasising the opportunities and resilience gained through the energy transition.

Economic opportunities and future-proofing

It has been estimated that covering only 5% of appropriate roof space on commercial buildings in the UK with solar installations could result in a collective annual energy cost savings of £12.6bn for businesses.

Additionally, Hewett mentions how market fluctuations, like those stemming from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, are likely to persist due to other global events.

According to PwC, nearly 81% anticipate further price hikes in energy costs within the next two years.

Hewett stresses that commercial energy consumers will increasingly want to prioritise addressing this instability, highlighting the importance of transitioning to solar for energy security.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energy sources, including solar power, are projected to contribute nearly half of the world’s electricity generation by 2026.

Hewett emphasises, “The more electricity you consume, the better deal having on-site solar is,” urging businesses to embrace solar solutions as the sun sets on affordable fossil fuels.


Chris Hewett is speaking at edie 24 on 20 March.

He will join experts from PepsiCo, E3G and Bryt Energy in a panel discussion on how organisations of all sizes and sectors can choose and implement the right clean energy transition pathways.

edie 24 is the brand’s largest face-to-face event of the year and will convene hundreds of sustainability and energy leaders in central London on 20-21 March 2024 for two monumental days of keynote speeches, panel debates, unparallelled networking opportunities, interactive workshops and more.

Experts speaking alongside Hewett on this year’s packed agenda include:

  • Chris Packham, renowned naturalist and presenter
  • Chris Skidmore MP, author of the Net-Zero Review
  • Claire O’Neill, chair of the WBCSD and former UK Minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Chris Stark, CEO of the Climate Change Committee
  • Hannah Cornick, head of sustainability and social innovation at Danone
  • Natalie Belu, co-CEO of Belu and independent candidate for London’s Mayoral Elections

Tickets for the event are available now on an individual, group and sharing basis, with a full price list available here.

With places limited, edie users are encouraged to book edie 24 tickets now. You can secure your place here.

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