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.

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

Trebling solar capacity would see carbon emissions fall by 21.2 million tonnes annually

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

Comments (6)

  1. Lawrence Rose says:

    But even with "older" targets for solar power there are immense materials issues, as reported here .

    Does anybody know how the UK can install even more solar capacity as soon as this article suggests?

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    Solar power cannot escape the disadvantage that it cannot be supplied on demand.
    Efforts to overcome this criticism involve electrical storage, as yet always in a secondary fashion.
    Solar power panels are also not pleasant objects to produce.
    Flexibility of nuclear power would, in my eyes, be a better path to follow.
    And I suspect, Lawrence, that your obvious doubts are well founded
    Richard Phillips

  3. Martin Normanton says:

    I don’t get solar power in a Northern and cloudy country like the UK. A small amount perhaps to supplement storage for windless days in Summer, but we have plenty of wind and that is availabe year round, with some increase in the winter months which are the months of maximum energy demand.

    Nuclear power looks dubious, Hinkly Point C has been rendered completely uneconomic by offshore wind with storage. There MAY be a future for small mass produced nuclear power plants, but the problem of nuclear waste remains unsolved, so the only desirable nuclear power plants will be those which burn existing waste. The UK did try exporting nuclear waste to Japan, but it turned out the waste was not acceptable as the paperwork was dishonest

  4. Richard Phillips says:

    I agree that solar power has little future as a major generator of electrical power. Power storage on the capacity and time scale needed is not viable.
    Wind is also totally outside our behest, and may be almost zero, as during last August, for many days on end.
    The reprocessing of nuclear fuel does have an answer but scares the politicians stiff, they simply do not have the scientific background. I understand that vitrification is the waste solution adopted by France, at La Hague, and indeed we have investigated the process
    If we want a practical solution to the generation of CO2 for generating electricity, nuclear is the only system over which we have complete control.
    Richard Phillips

  5. Martin Normanton says:

    Hi Richard, we agree on solar.
    With regard to nuclear vs. wind, the problem is cost, nuclear needs to halve its cost to compete with offshore wind, and reduce its cost by more than half to compete with onshore wind, which is still able to get planning permission in Scotland.
    The intermittency problem for wind has been largely solved by battery storage which can be at the point where the power comes ashore, and also in the area where it is used, e.g. overnight windpower can be transmitted directly to the area of use reducing the demand on long high voltage transmission lines (which are also needed for nuclear). Large grids are also usedful as national areas of low wind are uncommon, even though we do get local low wind areas. Also offshore winds are less variable than onshore.
    So wind seems to be the clear leader on cost. Also I understand that decommissioning costs are not normally included for nuclear plants, the government picks up the tab well beyonf the term of the politicians who approve (and subsidise) projects.
    With windpwer not only is the cost of decommisioning much lower, but it is allowed for in cost estimates. Decommissioning of wind turbines usually involves removing the old turbines (the steel towers can be recycled) and installing even larger new turbines on the same site.

    On technology you have prompted me to google reprocessing, and I note that France has a well established reprocessing system, which reduces both raw materials used and storage of waste. I understand that vitrification is a common method of high level waste, but is only a short term solution until/ unlesswe invent a way to completely neutralise it. It still has to be kept cool for 50years, and then disposed of in deep geological formations; more cost and as you say political resistance.
    Finally there is the problem of construction times, we need to reduce emissions ASAP since we have already overshot the safe level of GHGs, and wind turbines can be built MUCH quicker.

    In your post of the 18th you mention the flexibility of nuclear power; am I out of date in thinking that nuclear power cannot be switched on and of over short periods?
    Or are you thinking of using surplus nuclear electricity to generate hydrogen? In this case nuclear would have an advantage over windpower of having waste heat to use, as the most efficient generation of hydrogen by electrolysis is at relatively high temperatures.

    So I would support research into better forms of nuclear power, but for the immediate Climate Change Crisis I favour wind in this country, and a combination of wind and solar in countries with good solar resource (guaranteed every day in desert countries).

  6. Lawrence Rose says:

    1. In what way has the intermittency problem been largely solved by battery storage ?

    GB has less than 2GWh pf battery storage. We will need a few thousand GWh when fossil fuels have gone and nuclear capacity has been reduced.

    To get a realistic order of magnitude estimate of how much storage capacity GB will actually need, take a look at

    2. I know that people have mixed views on nuclear power, and can understand that and largely identify with it.

    However, GB has a base electricity demand of 20GW, and nuclear provides a significant and reliable proportion of that. If you take nuclear away what will fill the gap?

    It won t be wind, as wind cannot be relied on to produce anything. It is frequently below 1GW.

    So, what will you use instead of nuclear?

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