Shoosmiths' key takeaways from the UK Solar Summit
Chris joined 350 solar energy professionals at the inaugural event to take stock of the rapid progress the industry is making towards a decarbonised energy system, as well as evaluating the obstacles that are threatening to impede that progress.
Below, we reveal our key takeaways from the event:
UK Ambitions for Net-Zero
The Rt Hon Graham Stuart MP, the Minister of State for Energy Security and Net-Zero set the context with a keynote speech, setting an ambition of 70GW of additional solar in the UK by 2035. This encouraging target was, in broad terms, echoed by Dr Alan Whitehead MP, the Shadow Minister, who sought 45-50GW by 2030.
Dr Whitehead did, however, set out a clear strategy from Labour, seeing solar as “central” to the party’s decarbonisation plans. Central to this ambition would be the establishment of the GB Energy Company (similar to Nordic State-backed entities such as Orsted, Equinor or Vattenfall), which would invest and support in UK industry.
Alongside this, he talked of creating a “climate of certainty” to encourage investment through longer term, predictable support through contracts for differences (CfDs), a reform of the planning environment to create a presumption in favour of the grant of solar permissions, a Green Property fund looking to deploy around £28billion of support by the middle of a labour term, and a very welcome focus on communities and municipalities as delivery vehicles for energy and infrastructure projects.
He further described this as a “moonshot” vision, which is probably accurate in light of the challenges to overcome, but this level of ambition and clarity is very much welcomed.
The Solar Taskforce
Attendees heard from Chris Skidmore MP and the Solar Taskforce, a joint secretariat between Solar Energy UK and Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. The Task Force has been subdivide into four working groups to address the most pressing agendas for solar to grapple with.
The availability and speed of grid connections was top of the agenda, with a positive feeling about the speed at which change looks likely to be implemented on management of the connections process. Energy & infrastructure principal associate James Haikney has produced a summary of the proposed reforms.
Supply chain was discussed as a key concern as demand continues to ramp up to try and surpass a 70GW target. Whilst a level of comfort was evident around modules, concern about demand, lead times and the skills needed to deliver transformers on time raised concerns, although also an opportunity to present UK based manufacturing capability a positive skills legacy.
Skills, and the shortage of these was another of the task force’s focus, as was looking at barriers to deployment of rooftop solar, also discussed were grid issues, subscription models and the need to work with mortgage providers on innovative products to unlock the vast potential of the rooftop space.
Chris Pritchett’s panel session
Chris hosted a panel session with Ray Noble MBE and Tim Evans, CEO of 3ti, a company developing and constructing solar carports and canopies. They discussed the potential in the UK for 11GW of solar from carports, which is a sizeable proportion of the targets the ministers outlined early on, with the added benefit that land is effectively used twice, being as it would already be fully used as a car park.
3ti has recently completed a very large 3MW installation for Bentley Motors which is delivering substantial energy bill savings to the company. With their order book filled, 3ti and the solar carport space is an exciting one, with investment fund Gravis, recently announcing a significant investment in Solarcatcher, a company developing similar projects.
Chris Pritchett, Shoosmiths’ energy and infrastructure partner, commented:
“Broadly speaking, the mood of the conference was upbeat, as it seemed, for the first time that industry had the ear of central government and that there were genuine efforts afoot to remove some of the roadblocks inhibiting the UK’s progress.
“There was an appetite for corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) from renewables, particularly heightened at the moment given the energy price crisis, and of the need for suitable structures to be created to allow “clubs” of buyers to negotiate and benefit from solar PPAs, where individually they would struggle to provide sufficient creditworthiness to pass muster for a suitably long term arrangement.
“The opportunities arising from co-location of solar with batteries was also discussed, with Gresham house pointing out that, over the course of a year, a solar farm will only use 20% of its available grid export capacity, and that even if batteries were simply deployed to increase the use of this capacity, the case was becoming increasing clear.
Chris added: “To conclude, if grid connection issues can be rapidly and decisively addressed, solar is a sunny mood, notwithstanding an increasingly challenging planning environment and some supply chain issues, then the future is bright.”
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