Saturday, July 20, 2024

Why We Must Take the Path to Utility Scale Solar

Greg Rhymes

One of the most significant environmental issues facing society today is the transition to renewable energies. As one of the most environmentally friendly technologies available, solar energy, particularly at utility scale level, has an almost infinite potential to reduce the usage of fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gases. The pathway to solar farms is discussed here by Greg Rhymes, Sales Manager at GoodWe EMEA.

To meet the world’s growing energy needs in a sustainable manner, it is vital to significantly expand the use of solar power technology in the coming years and, for the UK, transitioning to utility scale solar is essential. Speeding up this movement will unlock huge benefits for people and business while helping the country to reach its renewable energy targets and reduce its carbon emissions.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), to restrict global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, the global electricity sector must reach net-zero emissions by 2040. Here, a significant expansion of large-scale carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) is desperately needed, as well as further development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Ultimately, there will need to be several sources of renewable energy to power the UK. However, utility scale solar has several pluses over other sustainable power supplies. It is cost-effective, reliable, more feasible, and only needs a piece of land and low-maintenance equipment. In comparison, offshore and onshore wind power is unpredictable and requires large turbines that interrupt landscapes. Hydroelectric generation meanwhile involves reservoirs and dams spread out over large areas, and the costs of geothermal power remain prohibitively high.

To outline just how effective and attractive solar is compared to alternatives, one can look at the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) as a benchmark. According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the global weighted average LCOE of newly commissioned utility-scale solar PV projects decreased by 13% in 2021, from USD 0.055/kWh to USD 0.048/kWh.

The road to a utility scale future

Considering the UK’s planning laws, the biggest hurdle for utility-scale solar to overcome is sorting out agreements on the use of land. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has already said that some farm land should be given up for other purposes like solar generation. Discussions around the impacts on biodiversity and food production will be needed too, along with proper planning and investment in infrastructure.

Without a well thought through strategy, there could be serious risk of floods and harm to wildlife in surrounding areas. These are all legitimate concerns that need consideration, but it is imperative that the UK overcomes all these barriers to get to a net-zero future, something that is likely impossible without solar power in the mix.

It has been predicted that the utility sector of solar will see the biggest growth in the coming years. From 2021 to 2022, the UK saw an 80% increase in new solar photovoltaic (PV) installations – made up through  a combination of residential, commercial and industrial applications. Utility-scale solar, however, is lacking in the UK with very few large solar farms, meaning that there is still enormous potential to add more capacity.

As well as helping the UK become energy-independent and reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, deploying utility scale solar will bring the price of energy down to help in the cost-of-living crisis, create jobs and boost the economy. Added to these benefits is the fact that utility-scale solar has little to no negative impact on local biodiversity and can even double as habitats for endangered species.

If, however, the country continues to delay deciding on utility scale solutions, then the UK will be exposed to relying on imports of fossil fuels from abroad – which as shown by global events, can cause huge challenges to economies and livelihoods.

Where next?

For a cleaner atmosphere, a Net Zero UK, and a greener economy, investing in utility scale solar power is crucial. The technology is available, easy to maintain and can provide unlimited free energy from the sun. Advances are being made all the time in the industry as well, meaning that solar will only grow more efficient and provide quicker payback periods.

In addition to the return on investment, one of the key considerations is looking at how utility scale inverters perform at high temperatures. Well-designed models, such as GoodWe’s HT range, make it possible to have full power generation up to 40 degrees Celsius, meaning the inverter will stay at its peak efficiency even at temperatures rarely seen in the UK. Advanced thermal design is a feature of many of GoodWe’s utility scale inverters, allowing for a longer product lifespan, more energy harvested and more cost-effective energy production.

With the world in need of better renewable energy, now is the time for the UK to transition to utility scale solar and lead by example. Doing so means the UK will be able to provide cheaper, planet-friendly energy, and become unshackled from the progressively unpredictable energy market.

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