As demand soars, British solar makes hay while the sun shines

Businesses have also been installing solar systems on their roofs. “Possibly more roof-top will be built this year than utility-scale,” says Chris Hewett, chief executive of trade group Solar Energy UK.

“For companies, particularly, the payback for large rooftops is very short now. It’s up to three years in some cases.”

Developers’ interest in ground installations is growing, meanwhile. Energy giants such as Scottish Power, Centrica and Shell are forging into the UK sector, competing with established infrastructure funds and BP’s joint venture LightSource BP.

Scottish Power, owned by Spanish utilities giant Iberdrola, increased its UK market share in January from 2pc to 9pc, snapping up 800MW worth of projects.

Shell entered the UK solar market in October last year, striking partnerships with developers Island Green Power and Clearstone Energy for projects worth up to 800MW. Centrica, which owns British Gas, signed a deal with developer Push Energy in April to build projects in the UK.

Last week, 2.2GW worth of planned projects in Scotland, England and Wales were awarded Government fixed-price electricity contracts at £45.99 per MWh. It marks the first time the Government has allowed solar to be awarded the contracts since 2016, although the price was slightly higher than some expected amid supply chain pressures.

Developers are guaranteed that price through a levy on consumer bills, but do not get to keep any upside. Under current sky-high electricity prices of around £200 per MWh, they would be paying back billions.

Experts also point to a rise in projects being built without Government contracts, but purchase agreements with businesses wanting to set-in fixed rates of power.

A few things cloud the picture, however. The pace of connections to the electricity grid is a major source of frustration. “That’s where the pinch is,” adds Driver, at Foresight Solar. “There is an army of developers out there now searching for sites.”

The prospect of windfall taxes has also dented confidence. Boris Johnson’s spokesman this week said the outgoing Prime Minister will not introduce one on the way out, but how his successor will act is unclear.

“Even the mention of [windfall taxes] on renewables has discernibly reduced the flow of money coming into the renewable space,” says Bernard Fairman, executive chairman and co-founder of the Foresight Group.

“A huge wall of cash is required to get anywhere near our climate change objectives; you will not achieve that by even whispering about windfall taxes.”

In Herefordshire, long-term returns are key to Quan’s family’s thinking: “Farming is becoming a more and more difficult business and so we are always looking for ways to diversify our sources of income.”

Those hoping the current heatwave will boost solar power might be disappointed, however, as very high heat tends to impact panels’ efficiency.

“Solar panels are generally more efficient in the low teens,” says a spokesman for National Grid. “We’re unlikely to see any solar records over the heatwave.”


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