The International Energy Agency is predicting a bumper year for renewables such as solar and wind, with generation capacity worldwide to jump by a third in 2023 alone – rising to 4,500GW, enough energy to power mega consumers China and the US combined.
The lion’s share of this increase will be driven by solar power – around two-thirds – which is being embraced on both an industrial scale and also by savvy households turning to cheap, clean energy over ultra-expensive gas that climbed to record highs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
In its latest monthly report, domestic industry certifier MCS has revealed that while the various rows over onshore wind turbines and delayed nuclear power plants have dominated column inches, a rooftop revolution is taking place in the UK.
Encouragingly, households are truly embracing solar power with a record number of sub-50-kilowatt systems installed in March – totalling 17,595 in all, or 568 per day.
If the current pattern of growth continues, about 230,000 installations will be made in 2023, which raise the number of solar panels on roofs from 1.24m to 1.47m across the UK.
This is great news, and reflects that solar is cheaper than ever, with a household able to set up a solar panel system for as little as £5,000, while Money Saving Expert now expects a payback time of under a decade for average consumers.
Nearly half of new installations include battery storage, so that households can make the most of generated energy – an additional cost, but also a further benefit.
There support for solar panels with a handful of government grants– such as the Energy Company Obligation scheme, aimed at providing low-income households with subsidies for renewable obligations.
Separately, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) requires suppliers with 150,000 plus customers to pay homeowners for any unused solar-generated electricity. This means you can earn money back once you’ve installed solar panels, increasing the rate of return on investment.
Last year, the government also announced households would be able to pay zero per cent VAT on any installed energy-saving products including solar panels, electric heat pumps and cavity wall insulation.
Meanwhile, the push factor of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the domestic supplier crisis, which helped pushed energy bills to record heights, also remains.
Yet these measures aren’t enough when the government is targeting 70GW of solar power generation by 2035 in its energy security strategy, which for reference is 20GW more than the ambitions for overall offshore wind capacity.
Small solar installations can help the UK reach big targets
Much of the heavy lifting in reaching our solar power goals will be done by large-scale sites, alongside installations on public buildings, with the government last week setting up a taskforce to place solar panels in schools, warehouses and car parks.
However, smaller installations from households, shops and local businesses will also be key to reaching this target, with the UK not even a quarter of the way to its goals yet – as the latest industry data shows just 17GW of generation across the country.
Frankly, with such a big target, we need to do even more to make it easier for people to go green – particularly when it comes to policies within our reach like installation subsidies, planning and skills.
For example, industry body Solar Energy UK has encouraged the government to mandate solar panels on new builds, but also called for supply and expertise to stay level with rising demand.
Chief executive Chris Hewett said: “There are three things that government could do right now to build on the momentum of rooftop solar for households. First, ensure that the future home standard effectively requires all new build homes to have a solar roof, secondly offer loans or grants to install solar and batteries in low-income households and finally, support for national skills and training programmes, similar to the Solar Skills London scheme recently run by the Mayor of London.”
Demand for solar technicians is already rising, with hiring platform Indeed reporting a 315 per cent increase in demand for installers over the last three years.
By the next decade, Solar Energy UK is forecasting that 60,000 people will be employed within the solar sector – up from the 7,000 recorded in 2020.
But with roughly 23m homes still bereft of any rooftop insulation, even more experts will be needed to meet soaring in customer demand.
Another hurdle is planning and grid connections for smaller scale installations on shops and businesses that don’t have the same rights as households but want similar set-ups.
Adam Bell, ex-head of energy at BEIS, argues that when it comes to installations, the government needs to make it easier to put solar on roofs.
He said: “The government took a step towards earlier this year through new rights for non-domestic properties. However, there are still barriers to installing solar domestically depending on the size of the installation and local grid companies’ ability to service bigger installations.”
Funding, skills and planning are challenges we can resolve – and with other global factors likely to emerge in the coming years such as securing key minerals like copper, cobalt and nickel and bolstering supply chains, it is vital that issues in our control are dealt with.
If the UK wants to embrace a rooftop revolution it needs to act now, harness the growing enthusiasm of the British public and carry the momentum through to meet our supply security and net zero goals.