Energy and Utilities

The Energy Transition | Commentary suggests the UK is on its way to becoming a 'global solar superpower'

Published on 2nd Jul 2024

Welcome to our top picks of the latest energy regulatory and market developments in the UK's transition to net zero.

Round solar panels

This week we look at: the UK's potential for becoming a "global solar superpower", the announcement of the first "ectogrid" low carbon network and Centrica's progress in redeveloping the Rough reservoir for storing hydrogen.

Commentary suggests the UK is on its way to becoming a 'global solar superpower'

Recent commentary from Atrato Partners has suggested that that the current levels of solar deployment in the UK mean that the country "has the potential to rival the world’s sunniest nations like Australia". 

The asset management group notes that the record energy costs seen in the UK in recent years have shifted the focus towards prioritising energy security and domestic renewables, including through solar deployment. While sunnier countries such as Australia have economically utilised solar energy for many years, the UK's lower rates of irradiation mean that it has taken more time for the domestic cost of solar to reduce to economically deployable levels. However the decreasing costs of solar energy, alongside increased investment, regulatory frameworks and innovation, mean that the UK solar industry is rapidly increasing. The UK currently has 15.8GW of solar deployed, with a target to achieve 70GW by 2030.

While UK solar energy has experienced particular growth in the residential sector, the commentary suggests the country's "sheer potential to capture commercial rooftop solar is what will put the UK on the global stage as a solar superpower". Notably, there are nearly 2.5 billion square metres of south-facing commercial rooftops in the UK which could be utilised to further these aims. The investment power of solar energy was also noted for businesses, allowing for them to reap the benefits of a cheaper and cleaner UK energy while improving the reputation of the UK as a whole, and placing the nation as a world superpower in renewable energy.

E.ON announces UK's first 'ectogrid' low carbon network

Energy company E.ON has announced that it has signed an agreement with real estate developer Lendlease to develop a low carbon energy network system at Silvertown in East London.

The 760,000 sqm Silvertown site will be the first development in the UK to implement E.ON’s "ectogrid" system, an energy sharing heat network based on heat pump technology. The ectogrid proposes to provides heating and cooling across the development's buildings, utilising existing local energy sources such as air, water or ground. Each connected building sends excess heating or cooling to others as needed. Additional energy is then supplied when none remains within the network, or if the grid is unable to extract energy from renewable sources that exist within it. The development is underpinned by cloud-based software, utilising machine learning technology to forecast energy patterns, allowing for greater precision when predicting energy patterns.

The project aims to serve 6,000 homes and businesses at Silvertown. According to E.ON, the ectogrid technology could save approximately 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – a carbon emissions figure 88% lower than traditional gas boilers.

The ectogrid is currently already in use across Europe, specifically in southern Sweden and Italy. When completed, Silvertown will be the largest ambient heating and cooling network in the UK, according to E.ON.

Centrica awards contract to redevelop the Rough reservoir for storing hydrogen

Centrica, a major energy firm, has awarded a front-end engineering design (FEED) contract to consulting and engineering firm Wood for the redevelopment of its Rough gas storage facility for hydrogen storage.

The Rough reservoir, located in the Southern North Sea, has been used for the safe storage of natural gas for over three decades. According to Wood, the facility has the potential to meet more than 50 percent of the UK's hydrogen storage needs. The project forms part of the UK's efforts to transition towards renewable energy and achieve the net zero target.

The FEED contract awarded to Wood includes new pipelines, a new unmanned installation, and onshore injection facilities at the Easington gas terminal. This marks the initial step in preparing the field for hydrogen use. The contract is expected to create approximately 50 new jobs in the UK.

Centrica had shut down the Rough reservoir in 2017 due to issues with the wells used for injecting and withdrawing gas. However, in response to the energy crisis, a decision to reopen the site was made and last year, Centrica received approval from Ofgem to operate the facility until 2030.

Last year, Centrica announced its ambition for Rough to become the largest long-duration energy storage facility in the world. However, a final investment decision for the project is still dependent on a government support model that would underpin gas storage investment in the UK. As we previously reported in March, the House of Lords science and technology committee has urged the government to decide by the end of 2024 whether to provide financial support for the project.

Martin Scargill, managing director of Centrica Energy Storage, said, "We have huge ambitions for the future of Rough and our partnership with Wood is an important stepping stone on the path to realising those ambitions."

Digital twins solution applied in transforming UK's emergency services

A government-funded project has recently been launched to make the UK's emergency services more energy efficient through the use of zero emission (ZE) technology. Funded by Innovate UK under the government's Net Zero Mobility programme, Project RESPONSE (Robust Emergency Services Performing Operations in Electric) is designed to address key obstacles preventing ZE operations in emergency service planning and dispatch systems.

RESPONSE, led by Flexible Power Systems (FPS), a provider of software and charge point services, involves the identification of additional data sources such as the range of electric vehicles (EVs) and charging locations. These sources will then be integrated into a data-sharing platform, Operate, to efficiently inform emergency dispatch system about how to better accommodate ZE response vehicles.

The project involves key stakeholders from both the UK and the Netherlands, including NHS England, Southwest Police Service, Kent Police, Essex Police, and Ambulancezorg Nederland. An independent non-profit research and consultancy organisation, Cenex, will leverage its experience in the visualisation of vehicle journeys and charging needs and coordinate these stakeholders to provide insights into the current dispatch systems and potential adaptations for ZE vehicles.

This article was written with the assistance of Khushal Thobhani, Luke Hopper, Hannah Bradley, Jessica Sawford and Charlotte D'Arcy, trainee solicitors.


* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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