Solar power is spearheading the UK’s “third industrial revolution”

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Solar power is spearheading the UK’s “third industrial revolution”

Friday 23 May 2014 09:31

Despite the recent planned cuts in subsidy support for solar farms, Nick Boyle, CEO of Lightsource Renewable Energy, here explores the numerous opportunities that still exist to keep the UK’s “third industrial revolution” on track for a bright future.

The solar power industry has come a long way since the introduction of the feed-in tariffs back in 2010. There have been some interesting challenges on this journey with numerous cuts to subsidies and the recent DECC announcement heralding yet more hurdles in the years to come in the form of the forced move to CFDs.

Despite all of this, there have also been some huge gains and achievements that should make the industry as a whole very proud.

In the first quarter of this year, 1085MWp of new solar power capacity was added in the UK. To deploy 1.1GWp in such short period is simply amazing. Last year I referred to large scale solar power generation as a cottage industry, but as these figures show we are no longer a silent partner in the overall energy mix.

Our own achievements, as the leading developer and operator of PV in the UK, have not been without challenges. Last year, when I revealed our ambition of 600MW in operation by April 1st people laughed, but we have achieved and even surpassed that figure. In the month of March alone, we brought 227MW online – with 16 of those 26 sites being switched on in just one weekend thanks to a very dedicated and experienced team.

While I’m naturally very proud of what Lightsource has achieved, these achievements serve to prove that solar power should have no problem competing as an equal in the electricity market. However, we must face the potential threats to our industry and rise to the challenges that we are being presented. Imagine where we would be if the UK consumer was able to truly make a decision on where they want their energy to come from.

Although large ground-based developments offer the most cost effective form of solar technology solution, we expect to see huge growth coming from rooftop installations. However, it is vital that the correct balance between the deployment of large-scale ground-based and rooftop sites is maintained.

The recent DECC announcements are obviously going to pose a new hurdle, but what the industry must remember is that subsidy is and always has been a means to an end – these support mechanisms are designed to bring technology to a point of price parity. In the past, cuts have been made to bring us in-line with other technologies and solar should not expect further “Christmas presents.”

It is important to understand that the proposed changes are not about the Government wanting to prevent solar farm deployment, as they are well aware that solar power remains the most popular of all energy technologies.

The habit of turning on a light, running a bath or flicking the kettle on is not going out of fashion, and with the UK’s fossil fuels resources depleted in the next few years, we need to home-grow our own electricity wherever possible. This cannot be done at any cost, but only where cost effective. Solar power is the fastest growing solution to the problem. We have proven to be the least offensive energy technology, and therefore the most popular, with an 85% approval rating according to a recent DECC poll of the UK public.

There remains huge opportunity in the UK for solar energy. Storage technology, for example, will metamorphosis our industry. Coupled with battery storage technology, solar power can become a deliverer of baseload energy – to supply energy at a constant rate not just at “sunny” times. As this technology comes down in price and becomes more viable, we are able to look at having on-site storage facilities to store unused energy from peak generation times – allowing us the ability to control what goes into the grid and match supply with need.

At a recent conference I attended in New York someone again described what we were doing as the third industrial revolution, which I don’t think overplays the point and captures the potential that solar technology possesses. We are at the vanguard of a revolution in the way and where we generate our electricity. It is this revolution that will deliver much needed energy security to Britain.

Although the challenge ahead for us and the entire solar industry in the UK is within the detail of the impending CFD regime and how this system is going to be implemented, we will tackle this head on and demonstrate that the large scale application of solar technology is currently the most efficient and cost effective form of electricity generation that will reach grid parity sooner than predicted and lower electricity bills for the consumer. Who can possibly argue with that?

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