Solar renewables ready to shine for the UK

Over the last ten years domestic energy consumption in the UK has grown by 17.5 per cent while total UK energy demand grew by 7.3 per cent over the same period. Faced with carbon reduction targets and the need to secure affordable future energy supplies, the deployment of renewables is expected to play a growing contribution to the UK energy mix – the government has committed to sourcing 15 per cent of the energy it consumes from renewable sources by 2020.
    
The Labour government introduced in April 2010 a system of feed-in tariffs (FiTs) to incentivise small scale, low carbon electricity generation. The feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme is a key driver in encouraging deployment of additional low carbon electricity generation, particularly by organisations, businesses, communities and individuals who are not traditionally engaged in the electricity market. This clean energy cash-back will allow many individuals and companies to invest in small scale low carbon electricity, and receive a payment for the electricity generated plus a nominal payment for any electricity exported. The tariff to be paid for electricity generated depends on the technology, the size of the installation and in some cases it also depends on whether it is installed in a new building or as a retrofit.

Solar technologies
Solar PV and solar thermal systems will make a major contribution to our future energy supplies, from schemes incorporated into the built environment and from new solar farms. The technologies are very different and have differing applications – solar PV systems convert light from sunlight into electricity that can be used to power a home’s demand for products such as domestic appliances, while solar thermal systems convert light from the sun into heat, which is usually used for water heating.
    
Currently in the UK, solar thermal devices are more widespread than PV systems with 90,000 solar thermal systems and 2,300 solar PV installations in operation.
    
Across Europe, solar PV and solar thermal technologies already form a significant part of the renewable energy mix. Germany, for example, which has a similar climate to the UK is the world’s fastest growing PV market and has 55 per cent of the world’s installed base of PV panels. Germany is a shining example of a country that has already achieved success in renewable energy production since introducing renewable energy legislation and financial incentives back in 2000.
    
In comparison, the UK solar thermal and solar PV markets are still in their infancy when it comes to capacity installed and supply chain capabilities. Narec, the National Renewable Energy Centre plays a fundamental role in advancing the deployment and integration of renewable energy technologies, working with the technology community, industry, commerce and the public sector on projects ranging from large infrastructure plant to integrated on-site distributed energy systems.

Developing PV

Our broad role to optimise the economic opportunities from renewables includes technology development and certification, inward investment and technology demonstration and training for installers.
    
Narec’s PV Technology Centre (PVTC) is the only independent, commercial crystalline silicon solar cell research and development organisation in the UK. PVTC is involved in a number of National and European R&D projects, manufactures crystalline silicon cells for concentrator applications and niche modules for companies in Europe and USA, and consults on the design and delivery of solar arrays and integrated distributed energy schemes for the built environment. PVTC recently reached a significant delivery milestone for the Highways Agency emergency roadside telephone project, over 10,000 modules have been shipped to the project partner for installation to power an off grid power supply for these emergency devices.
    
Narec recently installed a solar charging canopy in their car park at Blyth, Northumberland, which will charge electric vehicles and is to be grid connected and ready for operation from June 2010 onwards. Electricity generated by the solar charging canopy when not in use will be used by Narec to offset their electricity consumption.
    
The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme, which is also central to the UK’s strategy for improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, has been designed to raise awareness in large organisations and encourage changes in behaviour and infrastructure. When implemented in the correct environment solar thermal and solar PV technologies can help to reduce carbon emissions, generate additional revenue, reduce fuel bills and form part of local authorities’ regeneration and sustainable communities’ delivery plan.
    
Given the success of solar utilisation in Europe, in increasing the uptake of renewable energy devices the introduction of the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme will play an important contribution to helping the UK and local authorities generate additional revenue, reduce carbon and increase electricity generated from renewables.
    
Local authorities face significant challenges to reduce their carbon footprint while encouraging the further deployment of renewables in their catchment for both environmental regeneration and economic reasons. We are already engaged in a number of strategic partnerships with local authorities in the North East of England to inform their energy master planning requirements and help deliver regeneration in accordance with the climate change and political agenda. The correct technologies must be deployed in the right manor to ensure sustainability and maximise the economic and regenerative benefits to be had from the low carbon revolution.