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EAC launches new inquiry examining solar energy technologies

3 November 2022

In the latest stage of its Technological Innovation and Climate Change inquiry, the Environmental Audit Committee has today announced that it is to look at the role onshore solar energy technologies can play in the UK’s journey to net zero.

Electricity generation from solar panels – including their manufacture and construction – are estimated to have a carbon footprint up to 20 times lower than coal or gas with carbon capture and storage.

The technology of photovoltaic cells is a fast-developing area: current and emerging technologies appear to increase the potential for solar cells on flexible substrates and in locations with varying amounts of light.

Numerous energy storage technologies are under development in the UK that can provide the surplus energy from solar panels when it is most needed.

The rising cost of living is thought to be contributing to the increase in demand for solar panels on residential and commercial properties. The Committee is keen to consider whether market capacity for supply and installation is sufficient to meet this demand.

In its British Energy Security Strategy, the Government outlined plans to increase solar capacity to 70GW by 2035, with initiatives including amending planning rules for ground-mounted solar. 75 onshore solar projects were included in the Contracts for Difference allocation round 4 awarded in July 2022.

Chair's comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The amount of energy from the sun that strikes the Earth in a single hour is greater than the amount the global population consumes in a year. Developing solar technologies for domestic and large-scale use provides a major opportunity to harness this energy, building up domestic energy resilience and helping to meet the UK’s net zero goals. The UK is way behind other countries in deployment of solar energy generation. Our Committee wants to find out why, and how we can light the way to a new solar dawn.

“Can the supply chain support the anticipated increase in demand for solar installations in response to the rising cost of living and the drive to reach net zero? Is current storage and distribution capacity limiting the country’s potential to develop solar energy? Are current incentives sufficient to drive the level of progress required, and what barriers are preventing more rapid uptake?

“During our short inquiry we will be considering these issues with experts before putting our findings to Government. I welcome anyone with views on the potential for solar energy deployment to get in touch with the Committee.”

Terms of reference

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the issues raised in the following terms of reference, by 17:00 on Thursday 1st December 2022:

  • What role can developments in solar panel technology play in the UK’s transition to net zero?
  • To what extent is the contribution of onshore solar technologies to the UK’s renewable energy mix limited by storage and distribution capacity?
  • How significant are current technological developments in solar energy storage and distribution for the potential contribution of onshore solar to the UK’s renewable energy mix?
  • What are the current barriers (regulatory, technological or otherwise) to expanding the number of small and large-scale solar installations in the UK?
  • Are government support schemes sufficient to encourage small-scale solar technology deployment by consumers? What role does the pricing of energy under these schemes play in the uptake of solar technology by domestic and commercial properties?
  • Does Government policy and current planning guidance adequately address the issues raised by proposals to install solar farms on land with high agricultural or ecological value?
  • How sustainable is the supply chain for solar panel manufacture? Do levels of sustainability differ between mature and emergent technologies?
  • Does the concentrated global distribution of solar panel supply chains (80% manufacture in China) pose a risk to solar technology expansion in the UK? If so, how could this be mitigated?
  • What needs to be done to facilitate solar farm access to grid connection, to enable wider distributed energy generation from solar installations?
  • Are emerging proposals to utilise solar energy overseas capable of supplying additional sustainable grid capacity via interconnectors to the UK?

Image: Unsplash