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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

The UK’s rainy climate won’t prevent it becoming a solar superpower

10/7/2024

5 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Gurpreet Gujral, set against a grey background Photo: Atrato Partners
Gurpreet Gujral, Managing Director, Atrato Partners

Photo: Atrato Partners

The successful deployment of solar power at scale does not require a climate of Australia-like sunshine. Commercial building roofs are one important site for large photovoltaic (PV) installations, as Gurpreet Gujral, Managing Director at renewables developer Atrato Partners, writes.

It’s hard to imagine that a country famed for its rainy days and overcast climate could become a global solar superpower. However, the UK is proving this is entirely possible. In fact, the country’s solar sector is soaring. Already, the UK has reached 15.8 GW of capacity and rooftop solar deployment has seen record-breaking increases just last year.

 

This momentum, coupled with ambitious plans to increase the UK’s solar capacity nearly fivefold by 2035 (to 70 GW), demonstrates that despite its cloudy reputation, solar can play a fundamental role in the UK’s clean energy transition.

 

Taking first place in the solar race 
It doesn’t take much more than common sense to recognise that countries like Australia have an evident advantage to the UK in terms of solar. The sunny weather Australians enjoy means the country benefits from high levels of irradiation, which made solar an economically viable solution very early on in the world’s clean energy transition.

 

As one of the first movers in solar, Australia’s adoption of the technology scaled massively. So much so that, today, Australia has a spot on the global stage for one of the highest rates of household solar uptake. Now, one in every three homes hosts solar on its rooftops.

 

Despite this impressive momentum, Australia’s solar growth has slowed recently. According to a recent report by Australia’s Clean Energy Council, the country witnessed a solar downturn in 2023, citing ‘particularly poor’ investment in large-scale plants, which saw the financial approvals for new solar farms shrink dramatically.

 

But, there’s plenty of hope in Australia’s solar future. The government’s ‘Powering Australia’ plan is particularly promising, although the country’s ambitious target to deliver a further 32 GW of renewable capacity remains challenging.

 

Driving forward a bright solar future 
Countries around the world have recognised the clear benefits that come with the deployment of solar. In fact, its benefits have seen investment in the technology increase by over 200% from 2013 to 2023 – bypassing all other generation technologies collectively, according to the International Energy Agency.

 

However, the UK’s cloudier weather conditions meant the country was slower to hop on to the solar trend. Unlike countries such as Australia, the UK’s lower irradiation rate meant it had to wait for the cost of solar to reduce, and in turn, become an economically viable solution.

 

Today, however, solar is growing at pace and the UK is well poised – through enabling policies, increased investment and game-changing innovation – to challenge sunnier nations like Australia on its solar potential. And the commercial sector has a big role to play in doing so.

 

Using the energy sourced directly from the solar on top of an organisation’s roof, or the solar farm down the road, businesses have control over the origin, pricing and supply of their energy.

 

Businesses hold the key to scaling solar 
The UK is home to nearly 2.5bn m2 of south-facing commercial rooftops, which can act as the foundation to scale the UK’s solar capacity. This too aligns with the growing ambition amongst UK businesses to drive forward the country’s net zero future, with 44% already implementing a climate action plan.

 

Today, some of the UK’s largest businesses have already recognised the immense benefits that come with the deployment of solar, particularly reduced energy costs and emissions. In fact, some are already powering up to 75% of their own on-site energy use through solar alone.

 

The key to driving uptake in the commercial sector is power purchase agreements (PPAs), whereby businesses can benefit from long-term, affordable clean energy contracts. Using the energy sourced directly from the solar on top of an organisation’s roof, or the solar farm down the road, businesses have control over the origin, pricing and supply of their energy. Atrato’s work with businesses including Tesco, M&S and Britvic has seen it benefit from clean power generation and cut energy bills by between 20% and 30% every year.

 

Ultimately, a country’s hotter reputation is no longer reflective of its solar potential – and the UK is a case in point. Whilst countries known for their warm weather and sunny summers remain at the top of the solar scoreboard today, these nations have set the foundation for what’s to come in the UK and beyond. Through scaling the potential of the UK’s commercial sector – coupled with residential rooftop solar – the country is indeed on track to become the next solar superpower.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.