Panelists involved in the solar taskforce discuss its progress at the UK Solar Summit. Image: Solar Media

Panelists involved in the solar taskforce discuss its progress at the UK Solar Summit. Image: Solar Media

The first meeting of the government’s Solar Taskforce was held in May, with the group aiming to lay out a pathway to achieving the government’s target of 70GW of solar by 2025 within the next year.

Yesterday at the UK Solar Summit, hosted by our publisher Solar Media, a panel of experts discussed the progress of the taskforce, which included:

  • Rt Hon Chris Skidmore OBE MP, Chair, Net Zero Review
  • Tim Warham, Renewable Electricity Senior Policy Advisor, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
  • Ben Fawcett, Head of Solar, EDF Renewables UK
  • Alexandra DeSouza, General Counsel, EMEA and Global Head of Transactions, Lightsource bp
  • Lawrence Slade, CEO, Energy Networks Association
  • Mark Wakeford, Chairman, EvoEnergy and Director, Brackley Holdings
  • Liz MacFarlane, Director, Segen
  • Chris Hewett, Chief Executive, Solar Energy UK

Mark Wakeford, chair of the skills subgroup on the taskforce, said he was meeting with the subgroup next week, and did not underestimate the skills shortage challenge. 

Lawrence Slade, who chairs the grid part of the taskforce, said “boy is the timing right, you can’t have a conversation with the industry without connections coming up. The challenge is the size of the queue, something like 350GW of projects in the queue at TO/DO level. Let’s turn that queue into more of a conveyor belt and get them moving.

“The solar taskforce has been a dream of mine for some while. I’ve wanted to get the focus of the government on solar for some time. I suppose the key element of this is that it’s time limited but we’re looking to get it finished by February-March 2024 with the roadmap published so we focus all our energies on the key barriers to deployment and as a government get out of the way,” Tim Warham said.

“If there’s one wish I have it’s that utility-scale ground mount solar should be deploying at real pace,” he added. To get to 70GW of solar by 2035, the UK is going to need to ramp up deployment to around 5GW of new solar each year in the early 2030s.

Chris Skidmore MP, whose Net Zero Review recommended the taskforce, said that “I’m delighted we are moving forward with solar. I was keen in the net zero review to prioritise solar – right to the point of slapping it on the front cover. The wider challenge is not just one around deployment and the technical challenges. We’ve got the Energy Security Bill going through parliament, there are amendments on mandatory solar panels on buildings. Solar has a real opportunity to win hearts and minds.”

“The problem is how we manage the queue,” Slade said, when asked about grid connection problems. “There’s lots of projects that don’t have planning or financing, but the regulations are not on our side. One of the things the taskforce has to do is go in depth and problem solve and feed into the regulatory changes that are needed, so if we move projects out of the queue we know we have the regulatory cover to move projects forward. There will be winners and losers, but if you have planning and financing you need to be able to move up the queue as fast as possible.”

Alex DeSouza said the 50MW threshold for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) was “not helpful”. She said we need to “free up larger scale solar. It ties closely to the grid because you’re developing larger projects. That coherent strategy between grid and planning is something we re working on.”

Ben Fawcett agreed that the 50MW threshold was not helpful. “On grid, I’d like to incentivise grid companies to improve deployment. For too long it’s been about costs. I think we need to change the regulation to encourage grid companies to deploy more grid, connect more projects.”

Chris Skidmore, who is standing down at the next election as an MP, admitted that it was likely that some of the legislation required to supercharge the solar industry would have to wait until after the next election. “Unless there’s secondary legislation, I’m afraid you won’t see any primary legislation this side of an election,” Skidmore said.

Tim Warham said “we will be looking at things that don’t require further legislation. One of the key factors of the Energy Security Bill will be conferring a net zero duty on Ofgem. We are hopeful that the actions coming out of the taskforce will be able to be delivered without additional legislation.”

“I just want to be absolutely clear that we’re not waiting for any elections,” Lawrence Slade chimed in. “These reforms, where we can do them, are already underway.”

Mark Wakeford, who leads the skills subgroup, said “we have to recognise we’re in competition with every other industry in the country. There is a national shortage of new talent and we’re going to have to find ways of attracting people. We need to bring people into the industry at all levels. I see the need to grow foundation courses and apprenticeships. We’ve got our work cut out and I’m in listening mode at the moment but time is running out.”

Tim Warham said that solar projects at schools were important to show the benefits of the industry to young people. “

Liz MacFarlane, who leads the supply chain subgroup, said “when I look at the workstream, it’s absolutely vast, and any one of those topics could take up the whole of the next 8 months. So I think early on we have to prioritise where we can make the biggest difference and remove the biggest barriers to deployment. Certainly we’re going to have to be quite specific where we focus our attentions.”

“We’re confident we’ve got the right people in the room and we’re keen to get started,” Tim Warham concluded. There’s no doubt about the expertise available to the taskforce from across the sector. However, the admission that there would be no primary legislation before the next election can’t help but underscore the regulatory lethargy in Westminster which is holding the UK back.

Chris Skidmore said the taskforce “demonstrates how seriously these challenges are being taken up”. That may be true, but what would demonstrate the government’s seriousness is better legislation and funding.