The UK, like many parts of Europe, has seen solar power generation records broken in the second half of April, with reduced levels of air pollution and clearer skies due to the lockdown said to be contributory factors.
And there was further good news for the industry with this week’s announcement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that a new solar farm in Kent has been approved.
The farm is set to be the largest of its kind in the UK and will be located just outside of Faversham.
The subsidy-free project would begin next year, with electricity generation expected to start by 2023. The 350MW farm would feature almost 900,000 solar panels across 900 acres of farmland.
The developers claim that the farm would generate enough renewable electricity to power 91,000 homes, would reduce UK carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes annually and generate £1m annually for the Kent and Swale councils.
For the third time in just under a year, the UK has broken its record for consecutive days of coal-free power generation.
In May 2019, the UK went a fortnight without coal-fired power for the first time since the pre-industrial period, but the continued drive towards net-zero future and the rise in green energy output meant this barely lasted a month.
That record of 18 consecutive days, six hours and 12 minutes stood for seven months but was beaten today.
Currently, the UK’s energy system has not used coal for power generation for more than 440 hours, accounting for less than 1% of electricity generation in the UK.
Unseasonably warm weather and the coronavirus pandemic have both contributed to the new milestone.
Last Monday (20 April), solar energy accounted for 30% of all electricity generated, while the global lockdown has forced down demand due to a significant slowdown in production.
Sunnier times ahead?
“Solar is playing a critical role in delivering a fossil-free grid and cleaner, cheaper power to Britain. As we look towards a net-zero future, solar will become an increasingly greater part of the energy mix, tackling high power prices, climate change, and biodiversity loss,” said Solar Trade Association 9STA) CEO Chris Hewett.
“With the Government beginning to consider how best to kick-start the economy following the Covid-19 crisis, it has a golden opportunity to place renewables at the heart of its recovery package. Solar, in particular, can provide a glut of quality green jobs and growth at short notice, with your average solar park able to be built in less than six months, and home installation in less than a day. The industry is ready to help drive the revival.”
The public appetite for change
The dramatic slump in oil prices is another factor that could accelerate the U.K’s net-zero push by promoting green energy sources, according to Dr Jonathan Marshall, Head of Analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
Although previous falls in fossil fuel prices have been seen to have an adverse effect on investment in renewable energy, Marshall argues that the public mood has changed and that the reverse could now be the case.
Marshall believes that an over-dependence on imported fuel, estimated to be heading towards 65% of the market share by 2035, combined with highly volatile energy prices are shaping a new way of thinking amongst an increasingly politicised public.
In so many areas of life what was once seen as normal is now being re-evaluated, and power generation is no different, he says.
“Putting a rocket under the UK’s low carbon transition, as well as pulling the plug on industries that have been on life support for years, could be one of the ways of giving the public what it wants,” claimed Dr Marshall.
Renewable energy sources are growing quicker than first anticipated and could expand by 50% in the next five years, powered by an increase in solar energy.
A study carried out by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that solar, wind and hydropower projects are increasing at the quickest rate in four years. The report also suggests by 2024 solar capacity could expand to 600GW, while overall renewable electricity is expected to grow by 1,200 GW in the next 5years.
At this current time, solar and wind are undergoing huge transformations. Renewable sources currently make up 26% of the world’s electricity today but, according to the IEA, it’s expected to reach 30% by 2024. The recovery comes after a global slowdown last year, due to falling technology costs and rising environmental concerns.
IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, has since warned the percentage of renewables in the global energy system needs to increase quicker in order to meet net-zero targets. It is expected that solar will play the biggest part in the growth of global renewable energy, with the expected cost of solar power to further decline by 15%-35% by 2024.
As well as businesses, the number of home solar panels is due to increase to around 100 million rooftops by 2024. Even with this growth, solar will only cover 6% of the world’s available rooftops, leaving scope for further growth.
Following the closure of the Feed in Tariff (FiT) to new applicants in March 2019, the need for payment for electricity exported to the grid by small-scale renewables was recognised. Thus, BEIS introduced the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG).
The Smart Export Guarantee is a mechanism designed to ensure people/businesses who generate renewable energy and export to the grid are paid fairly. It applies to any of the following renewable energy technologies;
Solar PV panels, onshore wind, anaerobic digestion, hydro – up to 5MW
Micro Combined heat and power – with an electrical capacity of up to 50kW
The Smart Export Guarantee will come into force from 1st January 2020. Anybody who already receives FiT on installations will be unaffected by SEG.
How much will you receive?
Nothing is set in stone, however, we predict that initial SEG tariffs to be straightforward, most likely offering a fixed pence per kWh export rate.
The only requirement for SEGs is that the tariff must always be greater than zero, effectively meaning it is up to energy suppliers to decide what to offer their customers. Tariffs will differ between suppliers and some may choose to offer multiple choices.
How can we help?
Energy Management has expert industry knowledge which allows us to guide you through the whole renewable energy installation process. We arrange and manage the installation of the infrastructure right the way through to the procurement of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and SEGs.