SENIOR LEADERS in the solar industry have told the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that new homes must have installed solar power as standard.
Having photovoltaic panels on new home rooftops should be a central “mainstay” of the Future Homes Standard to meet the legal goal of cutting emissions by 80%, compared to homes built under the old regulations, MPs were told by Ian Rippin, MCS CEO on 11 January.
Chris Hewett, chief executive of the trade association Solar Energy UK confirmed that expectations were that most new houses built from 2025 in England will have some solar generation capacity.
Quizzed on government targets to have 70GW of solar power capacity in place by 2035, up from an estimated 15.5GW today, Chris Hewett said the goal was sufficiently robust and feasible. He added solar power is comparably cheap to onshore wind and is the fastest renewable to deploy.
Growing Power Needs
Increasing electricity generation from its current 4%, to 10% of the country’s needs, will help meet the growing power requirements resulting from increasing electrification of heating and transportation.
As is the case today, expectations are that about two-thirds of capacity in 2035 will be in solar farms, with the rest split between residential and commercial sectors. But Hewett added that there is “definitely going to be some floating solar” in the UK by then, the technology having been implemented elsewhere in the world many years ago.
Anna McMorrin MP pointed to the written evidence submitted to the committee on obtaining timely connections to the grid being one of the biggest barriers to expanding solar power. Waiting times extend well into the 2030s, making the national grid a “pretty broken system”.
Professor Alastair Buckley, Professor of Organic Electronics at the University of Sheffield, suggested regional targets for grid connections to incentivise distribution network operators. Committee Chair, Philip Dunne MP added that grid access could be the subject of its own dedicated inquiry.
Chris Hewett described the windfall tax on the energy sector as a mistake. For the solar sector, there is no allowance to offset the tax through investment, producing an “unlevel playing field”. This is despite the need to wean the country off its dependence on natural gas.
Caroline Lucas MP questioned whether the Smart Export Guarantee, which pays consumers for excess solar power fed into the grid, is high enough to incentivise growth.
Ian Rippin said the Guarantee was not enough and had been taken over by the economics of cheaper solar. It meant that self-consumption makes sense rather than selling the electricity generated. “There is a problem of fairness,” Ian said.
Chris Hewett added that access to cheap capital is needed to help expand the residential sector, as already seen in Scotland, where 0% loans for solar systems, insulation and heat pumps are available.
Dr Chris Case, Chief Technology Officer at Oxford PV, said that encouraging more solar and energy storage will benefit everyone.
Caroline Lucas also raised the issue of VAT applied on home battery storage systems. These are VAT-free if installed alongside a solar system, but not if retrofitted afterwards.
Ian Levy MP, who has a solar manufacturing company within his Blyth Valley constituency, asked what skills gaps needed to be filled – a prime issue for the solar sector, which is working with the Mayor of London on the Solar Skills London programme.
Chris Hewett said while demand for solar power presented an “absolutely massive opportunity” for new jobs, there was a severe need for skilled people, not least those qualified to work on high-voltage systems, to help rectify persistent grid access challenges.
Ian Rippin said that all electricians should know how to install solar systems. “From a levelling up point of view, a solar installer in London and one in Liverpool earn about the same,” he added.
Dr Chris Case finished that, from an R&D perspective, there is no skills gap. He thought the ‘manufacturing gap’ should take priority however, as solar manufacturing within the UK is minimal. He added that it makes no sense to ship products from China given that glass, readily manufactured by British firms, accounts for most of the panels’ weight.
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