The Future of Solar Power in the UK

Amid a global push towards sustainable energy solutions, solar power emerges as a leading contributor in the UK's mission to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy sources. Much like hydrogen, solar power holds a lot of potential, but its widespread adoption faces some challenges. So, what does the future hold for the UK’s solar industry? 

The UK’s current Solar Power industry 

Solar power absorbs energy from the sun using photovoltaic (PV) panels, converting sunlight into electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This clean and renewable energy source presents a viable alternative to fossil fuels. 

With solar accounting for only 6.8% of the UK’s energy source in 2023’s last quarter, it currently doesn’t make up much of the UK’s energy mix. However, in recent years, solar power has experienced a significant surge. According to the Government’s latest data, the UK's total solar capacity reached a record-breaking 15.7 gigawatts (GW) in January 2024, an increase of 6.6% compared to last year. This impressive growth confirms the significance of solar energy and makes the UK one of the leading countries in Europe for solar energy use. 

According to Statkraft, solar is predicted to become the world’s leading source of electricity by 2035, and could account for up to 20% of the UK’s total electricity generation by 2030, making the UK well positioned to be an important contributor to the global shift towards solar use. 

Challenges  

Whilst the future of solar power looks promising, the UK still faces a number of challenges, such as concerns around grid connectivity and storage, and land usage, to name a few. 

Whilst larger solar capacity projects are emerging, the intermittent nature of solar energy still creates challenges related to grid connection and capacity in the UK. Solar panels generate electricity during daylight hours, however the peak demand often occurs in the evenings when solar production is minimal. This requires efficient storage solutions or grid export. However, the current capacity of the national grid to handle these fluctuations, particularly in areas with high concentrations of solar installations, remains limited. 

According to NextEnergy, solar panels cover just 0.1% of all land in the UK. To reach the Government’s target of 70GW of solar by 2035, solar deployment would need to be at 0.3% of land use. The expansion of solar energy infrastructure, particularly large-scale solar farms, faces challenges related to land use and planning regulations. Solar farms require large land areas, leading to conflicts with other land uses such as agriculture and housing. Securing planning permission for solar projects is often challenging due to concerns about their impact on wildlife, landscapes, local communities and the farming industry. 

Trends and Predictions 

One of the key trends in the solar energy industry is the integration of solar power with energy storage solutions, such as batteries. As the cost of battery storage technologies continues to decline, solar-plus-storage systems are becoming more economically viable and attractive to consumers. These enable households and businesses to store excess solar energy generated during the day for use during periods of high demand or when sunlight is limited, which enhances energy self-sufficiency and grid stability. 

This development signifies a major shift towards a more reliable and flexible solar energy infrastructure, allowing and encouraging individuals and communities to incorporate clean energy solutions while reducing their dependence on traditional grid sources. The combination of solar and battery storage has transformed how energy is stored and consumed in the UK, and with ongoing technological developments, this is predicted to continue driving down costs and increasing efficiency. 

Another trend worth looking at is the rise of community solar projects. These projects allow groups of individuals or organisations to gather their resources and invest in shared solar energy systems. This provides an opportunity for those unable to install panels on their property, such as renters, to participate in the use of renewable energy. Community solar farms have gained a particular traction recently, allowing local communities to invest in and benefit from renewable energy. 

Five community energy groups in England and Wales recently collaborated to purchase seven solar farms, increasing the region's total capacity of community-owned solar power by 20% and giving approximately £20 million back into communities. The Westmill Solar Co-operative in Oxfordshire, one of the world's largest community-owned solar farm, generates enough electricity to power over 1,400 homes and has also established a wildlife habitat on its land. As community solar projects gain momentum, they simplify access to solar energy and promote engagement from diverse stakeholders. Community solar initiatives across the UK are predicted to continue rising, ranging from small-scale rooftop installations to larger community-owned solar farms. This movement is expected to not only drive a national adoption of solar energy, but also increase the local support towards energy projects. 

The Solar Skills Gap & the Solar Taskforce 

While solar power brings lots of promising opportunities to the table, the main challenge that lies at the core of the solar industry reaching its full potential is the UK’s solar skills gap. According to Renewable Energy Installer & Specifier, a total of 60,000 people is needed throughout the UK solar industry to meet demand, including 6,000 new engineers each year. This national challenge is due to a variety of factors, including the lack of investment in training and education programs, a general lack of awareness and interest in the industry, and the difficulty in attracting and retaining skilled workers.   

However, in recent years we have started seeing a significant shift in renewable energy career interest and uptake, thanks to national initiatives. Through the Solar Taskforce, the UK Government with support from Solar Energy UK is starting to play a more pivotal role in the development of the solar industry by creating and supporting more favourable solar energy policies and incentives, ultimately helping work towards the solar deployment goal of 70GW by 2035. 

The Solar Taskforce, initiated in 2023, is split into four issue-specific sub-groups: Electricity Networks, Rooftops, Supply Chain and Innovation, and Skills. The Skills group aims to maintain and improve the quality of installations as the sector scales up, improving diversity and ensuring that young people, those changing careers and those returning to the jobs market are aware of employment and training opportunities in solar energy and the skills needed for it. Overall, it aims to identify how to develop and deliver the skills and training needed for the future solar workforce in both the short and long-term.   

Solar Energy UK is a specialist trade association representing over 350+ leading businesses in the solar and storage value chain, and we are proud to have recently joined them. Together, we'll tackle skill shortages within the solar industry, by inputting into and supporting initiatives aimed at upskilling individuals, ultimately fostering professional development and connecting talent with opportunities in solar energy. 

So, what’s the takeaway? 

With ongoing developments and collaborative efforts, and support from the Government, solar power is positioned to play a pivotal role in powering the UK towards a greener and more sustainable future. While the future of solar power in the UK looks promising, some challenges remain and should be addressed, or they may well get in the way of future growth. Ultimately, the success of the solar industry depends first and foremost on its ability to attract and retain the best talent. 

As this industry continues to expand, career opportunities are also on the rise. Whether you're looking for your next renewable energy job, or are an organisation seeking talent to fill your roles, the solar industry offers rewarding and exciting opportunities for those passionate about creating a sustainable future. 

If you would like guidance in navigating this industry, we would love to assist! Click here to find out more about our expertise in the UK renewable energy market and meet our lovely team of expert recruiters.  

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