They say you should make hay whilst the sun shines. With the current energy crisis, you are better off making electricity. With this very much in mind, the government’s new ‘Solar Taskforce’ met for the first time last month. This apparently indicating that they are taking solar seriously.
There has been a revolving door of Tory ministers responsible for achieving net zero by 2030. The role has all the gravitas and sincerity of a Holly Willoughby leaving card. Current incumbent Graham Stuart, the minister for energy security and net zero, wants households across the country to do their bit to provide cleaner, cheaper, and more secure energy by installing solar panels on their roofs. In fact, The Guardian recently reported that the number of households installing rooftop solar panels did reach its highest level in more than seven years in the first months of 2023, as sky rocketing energy bills pushed people to consider alternatives.
Elsewhere, the outlook was similarly bright, with The Independent suggesting that the UK’s output of solar energy reached record levels in 2022, which helped boost renewables’ share of energy production to 41.4 per cent, compared with 39.6 per cent the previous year. Although Wiltshire’s own figures are less encouraging, solar is having a positive impact here – contributing approximately £1 million a year to the local economy, cutting carbon emissions and making energy cheaper. As of January this year, we reportedly had 423MW of ground mounted solar installed, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 households’ usage.
It certainly seems like solar is enjoying a renaissance after the winding up of the government’s previous Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) subsidy scheme which came to an end in 2019. The Solar Power Portal reported that the UK saw 130,596 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed last year – a 114% rise from 2021 – while more recent figures from The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) show that over 50,700 households installed arrays on their homes between January and March. That’s more than double the number over the same period last year and the highest figure since late 2015.
Casting the net wider, Solar Energy UK found that solar technologies now adorn one in every 25 buildings in the UK. At WWCE, we manage arrays on several Wiltshire Wildlife Trust buildings, for example and are working with a local school to install an array on its roof, too. The opportunity for these kinds of partnerships is huge.
All these figures are encouraging; however, it is still a fact that the rate of rooftop installation on both homes and other buildings must double to help hit the government’s target of 70GW by 2035. The number of solar farms will also have to increase significantly. In Wiltshire, we had 240 MW of solar approved but not built and a further 164 MW in planning in October 2022 according to the Renewable Energy Planning Database. These projects need to come to fruition.
Of course, as a proponent of green energy it is heartening to see people embracing alternatives to fossil fuels, but there is a long way to go. As of last February, the Wiltshire Council Climate Strategy showed that Wiltshire still only generates 6% of energy from renewables and I cannot help but retain a certain cynicism around the tangible impact that the Solar Taskforce will have on the bigger picture. Last year, applications for new solar parks were being turned down in their droves and our own Prime Minister made some pretty damaging comments about their impact on farmland.
Hopefully, the Taskforce will deliver on its promise to ‘drive forward a fivefold increase in solar deployment’ over the next decade, but I’m afraid the cynical journalist in me knows that actions speak far louder than words…
Julian Barlow – Chair, Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy.