By Harry Moncur, Head of European Solar, firstname.lastname@example.org
The UK is a thought leader on global matters and especially on matters of climate change. The UK is the global leader for offshore wind power. It is currently likely to outperform it’s targets for its third carbon budget which ends in 2022. Yet there are challenges ahead. By 2021 China will overtake the UK as the world’s top offshore wind power producer. At home, the Government’s own committee on climate change, announced in 2018 that the UK was likely to miss it’s targets for its fourth and fifth carbon targets. We’re not at a crisis point yet, but something needs to change.
Solar power has always suffered in the British psyche because of a national preoccupation with the weather. It's often viewed with suspicion because we tend to believe that we don’t get enough sunshine to make it worthwhile. In fact, Solar accounts for 3.4% of our power generation and can do much more. So, it is a particular area for concern in the UK’s Green Energy mix that Solar is getting less support than it should. The main challenge to the UK Solar Industry has been its reliance on subsidies. Years of subsidy cuts and subsidy abolition have seen a contraction in the size of the UK solar market. We have seen a significant decline in the last two years in the number of projects generating over 20MW. With solar on the rise in Europe, is it time to re-evaluate Solar in the UK?
The sector may in the long term be better off for the loss of subsidies for two reasons; investment and innovation. Without subsidies the UK solar market will need to seek greater efficiencies and a more effective business plan. With investment, it may be that 2019 sees the start of a subsidy free solar boom. A good case study for this will be Horus Capital’s new solar development arm Suncore Energy. Suncore Energy is launching 45MW of new projects throughout 2019. For us though, it is the innovation taking place in the UK for Solar that is incredibly exciting.
If the global solar industry has a challenge, it is that solar technology has not developed at the same pace as other areas of manufacturing. Improving yields from Solar is both a UK and global priority. One firm to watch is Oxford Photovoltaics. Oxford Photovoltaics is developing a material known as perovskite. They combine perovskite with conventional silicon solar cells. This tandem configuration demonstrates highest conversion efficiencies, which are expected to exceed 30%. In June 2018, one such tandem solar cell by Oxford-PV, set the world record for highest certified efficiency of 27.3%.
EVs tend to steal the headlines when it comes to CleanTech, however the UK is taking a more holistic approach across several areas of transport. The Department of Transport (DfT) has funded a multi-million-pound project for developing solar technology for pavements, roads and railway tracks. Projects in Central Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire have already received £1.05 and £4.49 million respectively for solar road and footway construction. The DfT has recently started working on a project to assess switching to solar powered trains. This is in response to a study conducted by the Energy Future Lab at Imperial College London and climate charity 10:10. The research claims that solar panels could account for 10% of the total electricity required to power the UK’s electric train routes. The effective use of land and energy efficiency make this project of significant interest. Elsewhere, the construction of onshore windfarms and a fleet of solar along the controversial HS2 line are being considered.
For occasional observers of the UK Solar Industry the current situation may seem worse than it is. Yes the industry has contracted but it is also now on the cusp of something great through investment and innovation.