Solar Energy UK: looking back and looking forward 

2023 was an extraordinary year for solar energy. High gas prices, the need for energy security and the response to climate change led to the greatest number of residential installations since 2011 – almost 190,000. The majority of these are now being fitted with battery energy storage systems – and retrofitting them to existing installations is now VAT-free thanks to Solar Energy UK lobbying. 

Chris Hewett, Chief Executive, Solar Energy UK looks back at an extraordinary year for solar energy

By the end of the year, 16GW of solar farms held planning permission and a grid connection, with another 9GW under planning scrutiny. Though numbers are hard to pin down, the commercial rooftop sector is clearly very healthy – as E.ON revealing a record-breaking 31MW rooftop project at the Port of Liverpool recently demonstrates. 

Overall capacity, on rooftops and on the ground, was estimated to be 17.6GW at the end of last year, over a quarter of the way to reaching the government’s goal of 70GW by 2035. 

Delivering that is the subject of the Government-industry Solar Taskforce, established in May 2023 and chaired by myself and energy minister Andrew Bowie. It has been front and centre of Solar Energy UK’s work since then and its due to conclude with the publication of a roadmap to 70GW later this spring. It represents a remarkable change in attitude compared to what the industry faced under Liz Truss. 

Solar roadmap 

I must be circumspect before the roadmap is published, I can say that it will address the industry’s foremost priorities: accelerating network connections, building a domestic supply chain, communicating the benefits of solar, filling skills gaps and encouraging investment in rooftop solar. 

The roadmap will serve as the foundation for our work and for the government to support the industry in the years to come. Regular meetings with officials and ministers will continue, to ensure progress on delivery. 

Meanwhile, our membership has grown continuously and is now approaching 400, with ever-rising attendance at our regular working groups, steering groups, webinars and face-to- face meetings. 

Another achievement was updating RC62 – guidance for insurers and their clients for the procurement, ownership, operation and maintenance of safe and efficient PV system. 

Vital industry partnerships 

Our partnership with MCS remains the foundation for promoting high installation standards and consumer protection. Meanwhile, the Solar Stewardship Initiative, established jointly with Solar Power Europe, is now working to ensure high standards of supply chain transparency across Europe. 

We have been delighted to develop our partnership with Solar & Storage Live, which had over 17,000 visitors in October. While continuing at the NEC, the expo is now coming to London’s Excel Centre at the end of April. I hope to see you there. 

One aspect of our work that has expanded considerably of late is the skills agenda, not least with the introduction of the Recruitment Zone at Solar & Storage Live last year, while maintaining our popular Installer Training Hub. We have also attended careers fairs, given talks to schools and began collaborating with Mission Renewable, which points people leaving the armed forces into careers in green energy. 

Aside from the taskforce, there was no shortage of policy wins last year: 

  • The Scottish Government committed to having a minimum of 4GW of PV in place by 2030, with an ambition to reach 6GW – in line with our lobbying. 
  • Again in Scotland, new PV installations were exempted from non-domestic rates until 2035 – allowing businesses to gain the full financial benefit of onsite generation. 
  • Planning rules were further liberalised in England and now extend to flat roofs and installations over a megawatt. 
  • Announcements in the Autumn Statement were extremely welcome, notably the acceptance of the Winser report, which is set to speed up grid connections. The Chancellor also mentioned stimulating corporate investment in solar and battery storage by deducting their costs before paying Corporation Tax; speeding up planning decisions through ‘Planning Performance Agreements’, and reforming the Electricity Generator Levy for new renewables installations. 
  • Lastly, the Government revealed a plan to make installing solar power on listed homes and those in conservation areas easier. 

We very much hope to see that solar is made effectively mandatory under the forthcoming Future Homes Standard, in the same manner as the planned Future Buildings Standard. Failure to do so would be nothing more than an economic own goal. 

Looking forward, over 33,000 MCS-scale installations had been undertaken by the end of February this year, putting the sector roughly in line with the record-breaking performance last year. 

As ever, I must thank our members for their generous support, which has allowed Solar Energy UK to expand its activities and grow our staffing. My final thanks go to the team, whose dedication and hard work have borne so much fruit. 

Chris Hewett, Chief Executive, Solar Energy UK 

Image credit: Solar Energy UK