Will the pandemic trigger a rooftop solar boom?

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For UK solar, 2020 has been an important year. Not just because of the unprecedented global pandemic, but because it was the first full calendar year of solar power without a subsidy.

Despite these two challenges, the sector is doing well. According to research driven by Solar media Ltd. and Solar Energy UK, an industry trade body, recorded a 27% year-over-year increase in new capacity compared to 2019, with 545 MW of new solar PV capacity deployed.

60% of these installations were from ground-mounted photovoltaic systems, while 40% were installed on rooftops, mostly located in commercial and industrial buildings. By May, solar’s contribution to the UK’s electricity supply had peaked at over 30%.

As the industry enters its second year without a subsidy, and yet another of the pandemic, it hopes to benefit from the new trend of working from home that has seen a dramatic increase in interest in home improvements, including: rising household energy bills. To target this growing market, Solar Energy UK is conducting relevant research to encourage greater adoption of rooftop solar power to counter rising energy costs.

Impact of the pandemic

Despite some slowing in growth from expectations, particularly in the residential sector, UK solar has been “pandemic resilient”, said Chris Hewett, managing director of Solar Energy UK.

“The industry had returned to pre-lockdown levels in September, largely due to underlying market conditions, continued cost reductions in technology and the utilities sector reaching grid parity,” he explains.

According to the professional body, of the 545 MW deployed last year, 300 MW were all commercial risk projects or had power purchase agreements with companies or the public sector.

“There was no government support, which shows that the solar economy has reached a tipping point,” Hewett adds.

Moreover, in the residential sector, he believes that a combination of greater awareness of climate change and a mental ‘build back better’ – the underlying motto of the government’s green industrial revolution agenda in place – has a positive effect.

According to data provided by MCS, a low-carbon standards organization, there were between 3,000 and 4,000 photovoltaic installations each month in the second half of 2020.

“A lot more people are sitting in their homes thinking, ‘I actually use more energy than before,’ combined with an increased interest in home improvements during the pandemic, has seen more and more people consider solar power as an option, ”says Hewett.

A analysis by the International Energy Agency found that a day of work from home could increase household energy consumption by 7-23% compared to a day of work in the office. The range depended on regional differences in average house size, heating or cooling requirements, and appliance efficiency.

He also revealed that if a person previously did not travel by car but by public transport, working from home could increase CO emissions.2 emissions due to this additional residential energy use.

New pilots

Another driving force behind the residential rooftop solar sector is the UK government’s ambition, released in January, to reduce carbon emissions requirements for new homes by 31% from June 2022. According to Solar UK, the decision could be multiplied by five. in new homes built with solar technologies.

To encourage adoption, the industry body hopes to work more closely with the financial sector to encourage consumer loans or green mortgages, so consumers can take advantage of low interest rates.

To support this offering, it is also conducting research on the impact on land value of solar storage and other on-site power generation technologies.

“The idea is to prove that the value of solar technology can be included in the asset itself,” says Hewett.

“In the beginning, a selling point of the technology was to just pay it off and then provide low cost power, but I think there is an argument that the benefit of this improvement can be passed on to value. of the property itself. It’s not clear whether the evaluation industry fully understands this, so it’s something we’ll try to highlight. “

Furthermore, newly announced Requirements for homes to be zero carbon ready by 2025 could see the vast majority of new homes in England installing solar power to meet those standards by 2022/23, Hewett says.

There is a precedent, he says, in Scotland where improvements in building regulations have seen most new homes install a small amount of solar power.

“We expect 2.5KW-3KW systems to become the norm on a new home, so I think this will change the way people see solar power, as it will suddenly become an integral part of it. a house, ”says Hewett.

Permanent challenges for the solar sector

PV is not covered by the Green Homes Grant, which provides vouchers to homeowners or homeowners for the cost of installing home energy retrofits. Yet despite this, Hewett says there are still a “reasonable number” of consumers interested in installing photovoltaic solar panels on their rooftops, increasingly linked to energy storage.

“Typically, on-site production will be the storage of the battery, an electric vehicle, which can then be combined with demand-side orders for smart charging with specialized tariffs; there’s a lot to do – we’re starting to see that side of the market pick up, ”he says.

But he admits that the initial cost of residential PV, which can range from a few thousand to double digits, is a hindrance.

The Green Homes Grant, however, supports solar thermal, a technology older than PV that can be used to heat water in homes. The government subsidy had given a “boost” to solar thermal. However, the grant would be in chaos and on the verge of being phased out.

“There is an argument right now, with many industry bodies involved,” Hewett says. “This money can support the decarbonization of our building stock; we absolutely need this subsidy to be there in the future as part of the longer term plans.

Additionally, Hewett explains that a dramatic shift in awareness needs to occur, for the home improvement industry in particular.

“I think what we will need to modernize the housing stock is a set of technologies, which can be deployed to improve the overall energy and carbon performance of homes – these could include solar power. photovoltaic, heat pump, solar thermal energy – but very dependent on the type of building, ”he says.

He would like to see this as part of a full renovation grant, to support the “large part of the population” who will not have access to the necessary capital and will therefore need the support of the government.

The future of British solar

There is currently 14 GW of solar power capacity in the UK – around 8 GW to 9 GW on ground mounds and the rest spread across the commercial and residential sectors. Solar UK has set an industrial target of 40 GW by 2030, but Hewett believes the industry can actually triple its capacity by then.

“The more we look at it – we’ll report back later this year – the more doable it seems,” he says.

“A challenge, however, will be to prepare the network to accept distributed generation offers; we have to slightly change the mindset of the way the network is managed so that it can accommodate this level of distributed generation, ”he concludes.


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