Solar resurgence

The climate emergency was around long before the energy crisis brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened. Solar and wind have seen a resurgence in the past decade, and have increasingly provided a greater proportion of our energy, helping us move towards our net zero targets. 

Last year, wind was the second largest source of energy (25%) with gas the highest (38%). Solar provided less than 5%. As this article is being written, the wind is providing 29% of energy (it is a fairly windy day), gas 26%, solar 14% and nuclear 11%. We are also importing 15% from Europe.

Russia weaponising gas supplies highlighted our energy security issues: North Sea gas reserves dwindling, not enough gas storage and unreliable gas supplies from elsewhere. Plans had to be in place should this become a crisis and demand had to be managed – luckily only the lightest of these had to be used. But it hardened our resolve to increase our energy security.  

Offshore wind and solar are the favoured renewable energy sources, with nuclear following up as the longer-term replacement for gas. There has been a proliferation of offshore wind projects over the last decade, and a growing number of solar projects coming forward. 

Advances in technology and economies of scale in China have brought the cost of solar panels down to make large-scale solar viable on its own merits without subsidy. It is local councils, however, who have to deal with the proliferation of new solar park applications. Officers and members alike are unfamiliar with solar and struggle to be able to make decisions. Solar applications are usually in isolated areas, often involving “best and most versatile land”. Decisions are a planning balance between the landscape harm and the loss of quality agricultural land against the pressing need to support the growth of renewables to ensure energy security and address climate change.

Solar is not only here to stay but going to grow: the British Energy Security Strategy proposes a five-fold increase in solar energy: from the current 14 Gigawatts (GW) to 70GW solar by 2035. That equates to 1,400 50MW solar parks across the country, enough to power some 23 million homes.