08 Oct 80GW of solar required to reach net-zero targets in the UK
A new report released by consultancy Atkins states that the UK will need to generate 80GW of solar energy to meet net-zero targets. The whitepaper details the capacity of each generation type required to reach UK climate goals, including the deployment rate. Findings from the Atkins report suggested that 80GW of solar is required, operating at a run rate of 2.67GW/yr. The run rate recorded for 2019 stood at just 0.26GW/yr for solar, equating to only 10% of the levels forecast in the report. The report highlighted a total of 257MW of new solar capacity during 2019, of which 82MW was within larger installations. The study praised the implementation of new technology, the associated low development costs and the quick response to the alterations in the subsidy measures. Bearing all of these factors in mind, Atkins believes that it is realistic to accelerate solar deployment.
The assessment also explained how an additional 15-30 GW of battery storage would be necessary to reach net zero, supporting issues of intermittency experienced within the wind and solar markets. According to other findings, more solar energy is needed, than wind, with Atkins suggesting a figure of 75GW of offshore wind at 2.5GW/yr, and an additional 20GW onshore wind at 0.67GW/yr.
Dr David Cole, Market Director for Power Generation Assets at Atkins explained that the UK has transformed into a leader in deploying renewable energy, thanks to swift market changes in the offshore wind sector, reducing construction and electricity costs. Dr Cole believes that similar intervention is now required across other energy markets and technologies for the UK energy industry to develop sufficient facilities in the necessary timescale. The current construction rate for power generation is less than half the expected rate. The report by Atkins explains that when faced with a significant challenge and in a period of uncertainty we often ask, what is plan B, but Atkins indicates that we are yet to define what plan A is.
Atkins is calling on the UK government to deliver an energy system architect (ESA) that creates strategic and risk-based engineering measures associated with developing and implementing net zero. The ESA would generate a broad framework with structured capacity figures for each technology in a singular system intending to boost support and market confidence. Dr Cole emphasises that climate change isn’t going to disappear and while goals for 2050 may seem far away, the government must act now.
Positive development in unsubsidised solar in the UK
On a more positive note, the UK is experiencing a rise of subsidy-free solar development, at a time when the nation’s pipeline of utility-scale projects witnessed a record month in terms of additions.
After a chaotic first half of the year associated with the pandemic, several solar developers have returned to business, progressing projects into the final stage of planning or moving forward with new sites. At the end of September, Hive Energy, a key developer of the large Cleve Hill solar site for the UK southeastern coastline confirmed construction had started on a 13MW subsidy-free site in Warwickshire. The project is due to be completed by the end of the year and forms just part of their extended portfolio of subsidy-free projects.
Another established developer, Elgin Energy, was highly active during September. The business confirmed it would develop a new 38MW solar project in Northamptonshire just after completing a joint-venture with major solar investor Foresight Group to develop 200MW of subsidy-free solar. Bluefield Solar Income Fund (BSIF) also announced that during September it had acquired several grid-parity solar projects with a combined capacity exceeding 350MW, with plans to advance the projects further. John Rennocks, chairman of the BSIF, stated that the subsidy0free market was apparent and alive in the UK.
The rise in activity has matched a similar increase in new projects entering the planning phase. Finlay Colville, the head of market research at Solar Media recently stated that more than 1GW of new large-scale solar sites was in the pipeline in the last month, representing a new capacity record for solar projects due for planning. The capacity expanded across 28 locations, including a proposed 350MW solar site from EDF Energy.
The total UK solar pipeline now stands at nearly 12GW, of which, approximately a third has appeared in just the last six months.