Is the UK underestimating the Role of Solar in cutting carbon emissions?

The realisation that the threat of global heating is indisputable has become increasingly commonplace. Concern is building globally about the implications if we fail to cut carbon emissions. Most notably recently the concern has been expressed by one of the most thought-provoking protest groups yet to emerge, Extinction Rebellion. Our students are going on strike and world leaders are sitting up and listening to a 16-year-old climate change activist.

Despite the fact that our scientists are telling us the very survival of our species is at stake we continue to invest four times more in fossil fuels than we do in renewable technologies.

Solar’s role in delivering net zero is being vastly underestimated as recent research carried out by the Energy Watch Group and LUT University in collaboration with Solarcentury, reveals that solar energy can provide at least 20% of UK electricity by 2030. Their research indicates that solar capacity could increase by more than 6 times to 80GW by 2030 creating 200,000 jobs. Further to that the Energy Watch Group says that by 2050 70% of the world’s total energy could be provided by solar.

Professor Christian Breyer of LUT University of Technology in Finland (coordinating author of the ‘Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy’ report), said in June 2019:

“Our research shows that the UK is significantly underestimating the role of solar power, as an immediate low-cost clean energy source. By 2030, it is quite possible for the UK to get 20% of its electricity from solar; meaning rather than stay stagnant on deployment it can multiply its current capacity by at least six times to 80GW. This move to a zero-carbon economy is more than affordable; it is one of the most cost-effective means for the UK to generate its electricity over the next decade.”

“The falling cost of solar has been overlooked by the UK Government, with the European Technology and Innovation Platform for PV (ETIP PV) recently confirming an 80% cost drop in the last decade, and a further 30% drop in the coming years. Across Europe, we expect the solar industry to reach at least 1.5 million jobs in the next decade. That economic impact must be included in energy planning, with 200,000 much needed jobs created in the UK alone.”


Professor Christian Breyer

Currently the UK is providing 4% of the country’s electricity with it’s 13GW of 900 solar farms and 900,000 rooftop installations.

There is some good news as the way to survive the threat is clear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other expert groups are working on restructuring the global economy for net zero carbon emissions before 2050. What’s more, this can be done at far lower cost than continuing as usual as set out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and other expert groups.

To continue on the survival path the International Energy Agency calculates that the world needs to be adding over 300 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity per year on average through 2030. The UK installed 180 GW, 60% of what we need in 2018 and well over half of that was solar. However, the total renewable capacity installed was the same in 2017 and last year was the first stall in two decades of strong annual renewables expansion.

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Industry experts called on the government to back solar development and as a matter of urgency revise their solar targets to reach net zero by 2050. In June this year, Theresa May the Prime Minister at the time, committed the UK to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 and was the first major economy to do so. The committee on Climate Change recommended a four-fold increase in renewables by 2030 to meet that target.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor at the time warned the government that reaching net zero by 2050 would be too costly for the UK and put too big a burden on public spending. However, this was strongly disputed by UK-headquartered Solarcentury, the global integrated solar power company. They claimed that reaching 100% renewable energy in just a few decades was not only achievable for the UK but affordable too.

Frans van den Heuvel, Chief Executive of Solarcentury, said:

“As a country, we are proving that solar works, and can be deployed both at scale and speed. Social demand to act on climate chaos and switch to renewables is at an all-time high, with three quarters of UK residents now believing that climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity today. With demand for electricity set to rise as we shift to an electric based system, the good news is that we have everything we need to significantly increase the UK’s solar capacity, from the momentum, ambition and skills, to the technology, investment and affordability. The one missing piece of the puzzle is political will.”


Frans van den Heuvel

Solarcentury, a solar power pioneer and one of the UK’s fastest growing renewable energy companies will report profits of £14.4m for the year ending in March 2020, compared with £1.5m the year before. Solarcentury has grown its profits eight-fold by investing in subsidy-free solar farms channelling a 5% share of the record profits into a charity that has helped connect 2m homes in Africa to reliable electricity since it was founded by Solarcentury in 2006.

The UK, In the year ahead will emerge as a key focus for subsidy-free projects, owing to falling technology costs that have made solar power more economical in more overcast countries.

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