nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Britain’s solar power industry is set to rise again

Leading the way is Lightsource, Europe’s largest privately-held solar developer, which plans to expand into the US. Last year the company unveiled a world first: a floating solar installation to help power a Thames Water reservoir just outside London.

The 6-megawatt structure lies flat against the water and is made up of 24,000 solar panels that sit on a platform buoyed by 61,000 individual floats and held in place by 177 anchors.

Once eclipsed, the solar industry will rise and shine again over Britain http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/06/03/eclipsed-solar-industry-will-rise-shine-britain/  3 JUNE 2017
From above, the summer sun catches the glimmer and sheen of a new facet of the energy evolution.

A solar panel does not command attention quite like the stoic thermal power plants that rise up from British landscapes. But on a balmy summer’s day last month, the collective glare of millions of panels proved solar power’s mettle.

The spring bank holiday heatwave began with a new record for solar power generationwhich created a quarter of the nation’s electricity mix on Friday afternoon. Britain’s solar panels produced more electricity than nuclear and coal power combined. They are likely to do this again and again as summer rolls on. Five years ago this was a feat few would have dared predict. The solar boom was fuelled by generous subsidies and spurred by rapidly falling costs, at a rate far exceeding expectations.

Paul Barwell, head of the Solar Trade Association, says there are now 12.1 gigawatts of solar in the UK, the same production capacity as eight new-generation nuclear reactors and enough to power 3.8m homes.

He says the “colossal achievement” achieved in just five years sends a positive message that solar has a strong place in the UK energy sector. This is a point Barwell is keen to make because the rise of solar power has been far from assured – the industry has been shattered by knee-jerk political interventions.

In China, policymakers put the country’s manufacturing heft firmly behind developing cheaper solar panels, accelerating the technology’s journey down the cost curve.

Once considered the preserve of the very well-off, in the UK rooftop solar panels were suddenly within the reach of homeowners. Farmers with depleted land found economically it made more sense to farm renewable electricity than sheep. Energy-intensive factories were easily persuaded to generate their own power to cut costs.

Now solar panels encrust the surfaces of reservoirs and are expected to plate the roof of Buckingham Palace.

But the rapid ascent of solar gave way to an Icarus-like fall from political favour.  In 2015, energy ministers, irked by the higher-than-expected take-up of solar subsidies, delivered a series of unexpected cuts to avoid unexpected burdens on energy bills. The Government closed off funding for solar projects through its Renewables Obligation scheme, allowing a modest grace period for some developers to roll out new sites until April last year. New projects are expected to hit a lull for the next year or two.

 Ben Warren, head of EY’s renewable energy practice, says the solar boom was five times larger than ministers had expected to support, and caught policymakers on the back foot. “The Government was always trying to play catch-up, and was always about a year behind the industry,” he says.  The subsidy bonfire tore through the young industry, causing companies to fold and wiping out a third of the workforce.
The rollout rate of solar panels plummeted. In the first quarter of this year, residential rooftop solar installations fell by 75pc, from around 2,700 a week to around 650. For larger-scale projects, such as factories, the rate fell by 65pc to around one a month.

The highest-profile victim was solar installer Mark Group. The Leicester-based firm slipped into administration just months after being snapped up by US-listed solar giant SunEdison. The company collapse resulted in almost 1,000 job losses.

In total, the support cuts reduced solar jobs in Britain from 5,300 to 3,600 in just a year. SunEdison was one of many in the industry that lashed out at Government over the “draconian” blow, warning that the ministerial bungling would kill off the industry.

The hyperbole has proved not quite to be the case. Solar installations may have stalled but developers are understood to be quietly nursing a project pipeline totalling hundreds of megawatts of new capacity, waiting until further cost cuts mean the projects can be developed subsidy-free. “The subsidy which was there kick-started the industry and repaid the early risk-takers in the market – but clearly they are no longer justified,” Warren says.

“My guess is that there are several hundred megawatts – if not over a gigawatt – of solar capacity which is being developed by those who are sitting on those projects, waiting for further cost reductions before they actually construct them.

“Projects have been put on ice until the cost equations work,” he adds.

It is not a strategy without risk. Warren expects casualties.

“Investment decisions are being made. There are people doing site acquisitions and securing grid connections and financing. But they are doing this without the visibility of the actual costs that the projects might be by the time they are ready for deployment,” he says.

But if any industry is hardy enough to brave uncertainty, it’s solar. “By ‘growing up’ in the environment in which they have, solar developers have had to be very dynamic and tough. As it moves into an unsubsidised market and this uncertainty drifts away, it provides a much more sustainable platform on which to build these businesses rather than being purely responsive,” he says.

Leading the way is Lightsource, Europe’s largest privately-held solar developer, which plans to expand into the US. Last year the company unveiled a world first: a floating solar installation to help power a Thames Water reservoir just outside London.

The 6-megawatt structure lies flat against the water and is made up of 24,000 solar panels that sit on a platform buoyed by 61,000 individual floats and held in place by 177 anchors.

The power will help Thames Water run its energy-intensive operations.

Nick Boyle, chief executive of Lightsource, says the power generated is cheaper than the water utility typically pays and is guaranteed to remain the same price for 25 years.

“The thing about the Queen Elizabeth reservoir is that it’s so different, not only in terms of what we’ve done before, but in terms of what the rest of the world has done before,” he says.

Another first for Lightsource has been its move into the retail energy market through a team-up with EDF Energy. The pair have thrown their weight behind Sunplug, a challenger brand that offers a solar power and battery system at no upfront cost.

Sunplug expects to reach a million British homes by 2020.

Lightsource plans to open its first US office in San Francisco within a year. “I firmly believe that we have the potential to shape the future of global energy,” says Boyle.

The legacy of the boom years will also stand the industry in good stead for a new dawn. The solar sector is well capitalised, both financially and in human resources, after drawing in investors and talent in sunnier times.

In the meantime, developers are ploughing time and skills into developing storage technology. Batteries could unlock a fresh wave of progress for solar power by allowing users to store electricity generated during the day for night-time use.

“This will come down to how much policy setters, the regulator and National Grid want to encourage the deployment of energy storage. In a positive competitive environment for storage, this would be a huge fillip for solar,” Warren says.

“Now, with all the stars aligned, we are set for further and quite significant cost reduction,” he adds.

The future of Britain’s energy landscape may be quieter and more discreet, but no less brilliant.

 

Advertisements

June 5, 2017 - Posted by | renewable, UK

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: