Solar Power The Future June 2024 Report

Solar PV: where we are now and what lies ahead 

Almost a year since its inception, we’re all eagerly awaiting the final report of the Solar Taskforce. So what is
What i What is the Future of Solar Power as a group of key players from government and industry brought together toMexico Plant work out exactly how the UK can achieve a five-fold increase in solar deployment by 2035

That final report and step-by-step roadmap to 70 GW is expected soon. We heard from some of the taskforce members at last year’s Solar and Storage Show and we interviewed chair of the skills sub group, Mark Wakeford, for the last edition of Renewable Energy Installer magazine, which gave some insight as to what might be ahead.

But whatever their recommendations, momentum seems to be building again in the solar PV sector.

The UK is currently at around 1.4million installed solar systems (including residential, commercial, solar farms, ground-mounted and rooftop), with a cumulative capacity of 15.7 GW.

The number of new residential installations in the UK last year was the highest since 2011 and while planning applications for solar farms with a capacity over 1 MW have not yet reached 2015’s levels, these numbers have been rising since 2017.

Also the capacity of solar farms proposed has increased over time from an average of 4 MW in 2010, to 25 MW by October 2023.

Latest figures shown in a Commons Library research report on planning for solar farms showed there were 1,589 solar farms in the UK, either operational or under/awaiting construction, with a total capacity of almost 30GW.

While things are moving in the right direction, the figures would suggest there’s still some catching up to do with pre-subsidy days. Around 513,000 solar systems with a combined capacity of 11 GW were installed between 2013 and 2017, compared to 323,000 systems with a combined capacity of 1.8 GW installed between 2018 and 2022.

Around two thirds (67%) of planning applications for solar farms with a capacity over 1 MW submitted to local planning authorities in England between 2010 and October 2023 were granted planning permission, while 11% were refused and 14% were either abandoned or withdrawn by developers.

Changes to planning policy

Planning policy was amended earlier this year to support the Government’s aim of achieving widespread deployment of rooftop solar on commercial and industrial land and large-scale deployment of ground-mounted solar on brownfield, industrial and low and medium grade agricultural land.

Policy for large-scale farms above 50MW, which are decided by the Secretary of State, now highlights the development of low-carbon infrastructure as a ‘critical national priority’. As such, consent should ‘generally be granted’, the policy says.

While installing solar panels on roofs or in gardens for direct consumption has ‘permitted development rights’ and doesn’t usually require planning permission, some of the restrictions of these rights were removed in December last year. New rights were also introduced for solar canopies on off-street car parks.

In real terms, we are seeing regular news headlines about newer and bigger solar projects coming on board all the time.

Recent announcements include a new 49.9 MW farm by Downing Renewable Developments in Norfolk, which will generate enough clean energy to supply up to 12,000 homes every year. This is one of 25 sites at different stages of development as part of a £4bn investment from Downing.

Peel Ports Group and E.ON have also revealed plans for the UK’s largest roof-mounted solar energy system at the Port of Liverpool, which could eventually see the installation of as many as 63,000 solar panels – the equivalent of 18 football pitches.

Challenges remain

Of course, significant challenges and barriers remain, such as the grid, skills and the supply chain, so all eyes will be on the taskforce to see how it plans to set about tackling some of these issues, alongside Government actions already in motion.

These include, for example, plans to accelerate the building of electricity transmission infrastructure and connections to the network, and the establishment of a new publicly owned and independent ‘Future System Operator’.

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Renewable Energy Installer & Specifier magazine. View the magazine

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