ENERGY STORAGE

UK solar & storage sectors’ 10 asks of new PM

The pressure is on new UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer to speed up the energy transition, with planning system issues a major concern for the solar and energy storage sectors

BEN COOK

July 10, 2024

  • Pressure on new UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer to speed up energy transition
  • Solar & storage sectors want PM to tackle issues in the planning system
  • Other asks include expanding solar manufacturing base and energy storage supply chain

Last week’s landslide Labour victory in the UK general election means Keir Starmer is the new Prime Minister and already the pressure is on the latest occupant of 10 Downing Street to speed up the energy transition.

In its election manifesto, the Labour party pledged to make Britain a “clean energy superpower” and work with the private sector to “double onshore wind, triple solar power, and quadruple offshore wind” by 2030.  The manifesto also said that the party would ensure the country has the “long-term energy storage” it needs.

Within days of entering office, the new Labour government lifted the de facto ban on offshore wind farms, and, upon the announcement, new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, and former Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, posted a video on social media in which he reiterated the need for the UK to become a “clean energy superpower”.

So far, so good for the renewable energy sector. But what needs to happen under this Labour administration to satisfy the needs of the UK’s solar and energy storage sector? Trade association Solar Energy UK has said that the new government’s first year will be “critical” for the solar and energy storage sectors.

Here are the  UK solar & storage sector’s 10 asks of the new Prime Minister:

1. Address the planning regime and ensure consistency in decisions

Investors are “willing to invest in UK solar and storage at all scales” Solar Energy UK claims, though it also says there are challenges to unleashing the capital required that only the government can overcome. Hence the association has called on the government to “resolve an inconsistent planning regime” and a “lack of joined up thinking on the symbiotic relationship between energy security, food security and restoring nature”. Solar Energy UK has also said there needs to be consistency in planning decisions. “Failing to respect established national policy has led to solar planning refusals being overturned more than any other kind of development – bad for investment, bad for the taxpayer and needlessly extending our reliance on fossil fuels.”

2. Bring the benefits of solar and storage to new homes

There are now more than 1.5 million small-scale rooftop solar power installations across homes, businesses and community buildings across the UK, almost half of them installed after the end of subsidies in 2019. However, Solar Energy UK says there is still a role for government in ensuring that solar and storage technologies are available for low-income households and communities that want to invest in their own projects at schools and other public buildings.

3. Focus on building standards and facilitate peer-to-peer energy trading

There needs to be a commitment to not only decarbonising our buildings, but also enabling self-generation and storage, which will help keep energy bills down and relieve pressure on the grid network – and this commitment needs to be reflected in building standards. “Building standards must also be overhauled urgently, while peer-to-peer energy trading must be enabled to allow schools, community projects and businesses to buy and sell power locally,” Solar Energy UK says.

4. Facilitate greater and faster investment in the grid

Inadequate electricity networks mean that most renewable energy assets can now be built faster than we can connect them, which is a major impediment for solar farms, large battery projects and commercial-scale rooftop investments, alike. “Maintaining the slow pace of connections would put current and proposed targets out of reach – even net zero itself,” Solar Energy UK says. Solving this problem means ensuring that Ofgem allows greater and faster investment in the grid, improving service from operators and modernising grid management.

5. Build the skills for British green jobs

The new government should work with industry to promote career opportunities in the renewables sector, with a “network of green skills hubs offering training in regions where we know that renewables deployment will be extensive”, Solar Energy UK says.

6. Facilitate growth in solar manufacturing

There is also a need for Government support for the expansion of domestic manufacturing of solar-related technologies, such as switchgear, cabling, batteries and mounting systems.

7. Expand UK storage supply chain

Solar Energy UK has called on the new government to support (partly through public investment) the expansion of the UK’s energy storage supply chain and manufacturing capabilities as well as construction, operation and maintenance capacity.

8. Implement a renewables-first approach to market reform

The UK must not fall behind the EU, US, China, India and others in the global race for clean energy investment, which means ensuring that solar and energy storage has a “level playing field with other energy technologies and other countries”, says Solar Energy UK. More than 11GW of solar capacity is approved and awaiting construction. However, the current budget allocation for Allocation Round 6 of the Contracts for Difference scheme will facilitate the development of less than 2GW, which will act as a limit on the pace of the energy transition. The new government also needs to ensure that the Electricity Generator Levy, the Capacity Market, Balancing Mechanisms and the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA) “attracts investment in clean energy, with storage and flexibility to provide backup”, according to Solar Energy UK.

9. Establish the UK as a global leader in battery innovation

The battery industry offers a major opportunity for the UK with the potential to become a “global leader in battery technology, fostering innovation, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting the economy,” said Matthew Lumsden CEO of battery energy storage system company Connected Energy.

10. Re-consider plans for a strategic reserve of gas power stations

Labour’s manifesto said it would maintain a strategic reserve of gas power stations to guarantee security of supply. Such a plan could stifle the energy transition and act as a block on the wider deployment of storage. In a social media post, Alex O’Cinneide, CEO of Gore Street Capital, said last week: “The prospect of a strategic reserve of gas is both intriguing and concerning. Pushing gas to the margins and letting renewables flourish could be a welcome move towards a cleaner system but separating it into what could be an isolated market, where cleaner forms of flexibility like energy storage cannot challenge it, could limit this transition.”