Market Insight

Renewable energy policy: solar and wind statistics (2024)

Well things have certainly changed since we wrote this article in early 2024. Not only do we now have a new Labour-led government but some huge changes to energy policy too. We'll keep the old stuff here for preservation and update the story as it develops.

July 8, 2024

Updated July 2024. Oh boy, so things have changed dramatically since we wrote this blog at the start of the year. Not only have we got a new Labour government led by Kier Starmer, but in the first few days of his Premiership we've seen some big moves with energy policy. Clean and green is now firmly back on the table with the defacto ban on new onshore windfarms dropped.

The ban, caused by two footnotes on the National Planning Policy Framework, which required such strong proof that there was no opposition locally that they made building turbines impossible, have been removed from the new draft policy.

In addition, Labour have also announced that it would go a step further and consult on whether to designate large windfarms as nationally significant infrastructure projects, meaning that the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, would sign them off and local councils would not have a say.

We'll keep the previous article here but will update in due course.

The state of play in January 2024

Following the recent energy crisis, the issue of how we produce and price energy has quickly become one of the government's top concerns. That's why, in March 2023, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero rolled out a new plan called Powering up Britain.

The policy paper lays out the government's latest plan to boost energy security and meet its net-zero goals - detailing the department's mission to switch our energy supply to options that are not only cheaper and cleaner but also produced here in the UK.

The goal?  A legally binding target to be net zero by 2050 with a fully decarbonised power system composed predominantly of wind and solar, achieved through:

  • A fivefold increase in solar power by 2035 (from a capacity of 14GW to 70GW)
  • A lifting of restrictions on building new onshore wind farms
  • A world-leading ambition to deploy up to 50GW of offshore wind power by 2030, with up to 5GW coming from floating offshore wind.

But after what feels like years of back stepping, planning red tape and endless consultations - has anything changed?

Are we meeting renewable energy targets?

The chart below show that renewable energy sources contributed 40.8% of the power supplied to the National Grid in 2023. Breaking that down, we saw 29.4% of energy coming from wind and 4.9% coming from solar projects.

Supplier Fuel Mix: UK Average (for the year 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023)
Supplier fuel mix: UK average (for the year 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023)

Notable records during this period included:

  • The first time wind generation provided over 21GW of electricity
  • Highest ever solar power at 10.971GW on 20 April

Overall, zero-carbon sources outperformed traditional fossil fuel generation in 2023 by providing 51% of the electricity used this year, compared to 32% from gas and 1% from coal stations.

According to the Climate Change Committee, while there have been some promising steps, the Government is still lacking a credible overall strategy for the decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2035. Renewable electricity capacity increased in 2022, but not at the rate required to meet the targets, particularly for solar deployment.

So, the race is on!

Onshore wind farms

As of 2023, the UK has over 11,000 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of 30 gigawatts (GW), making the UK the sixth-largest wind power capacity in the world.

But to meet the 50 GW offshore wind by 2030, the UK must build another 2,600 wind turbines and achieve an annual increase of 4.3 GW each year up to and including 2030.

Onshore wind is also expected to be a big part of the UK’s plans to achieve its renewable goals. However, since 2015, decision-making powers for onshore wind farms in England have been delegated to local planning authorities. 

Under this policy - local authorities were able to block new turbines based on just one complaint - essentially imposing a de facto ban on new onshore developments.

Those rules have led to just 20 new onshore wind farms in England being given planning permission in the last nine years

Graphs showing applications and approval ratings for wind farms in England (2018-2023)
Applications and approval ratings for wind farms in England (2018-2023)

But things are now looking up, in September 2023, the government updated the national planning policy to encourage LPAs to approve planning applications for onshore wind farms if:

  • It is an area identified as suitable in the local development plan (local plan or a neighbourhood plan) or a supplementary planning document.
  • The planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been appropriately addressed and the proposal has community support.

This means councils will be required to consider the views of the entire community rather than bowing to a single objection. They will be allowed to identify new onshore wind in other ways apart from a local plan, and the government plans to introduce an incentive scheme to make sure local residents see some of the economic benefits of new developments.

Interestingly applications for any kind of wind turbine development, including small commercial and residential turbines (across the UK) have experienced a similar trend in application rates to wind farms.

Source: Searchland Wind Turbine Planning Applications (2018-2023)
Source: Searchland all wind turbine planning applications in the UK (2018-2023)

Ground-mounted solar PV farms

In the UK, solar capacity has increased from 5,488.6 MW in 2014 to a whopping 15 gigawatts as of 2023.

This is set to increase each year – with 0.952 GW of solar PV capacity being installed around the UK between June 2022 and June 2023 alone.

Although it’s pretty difficult to estimate the exact number of solar panels in the UK, the latest data suggests that 1.3 million UK homes have solar panels installed.

The UK is also home to over 1,100 wind farms, generating 8.67 GW of power.

One major challenge for the solar energy industry is getting planning permission to build new solar parks. Between 2021 and 2022, there was a significant increase in the number of rejected applications.

This situation is often due to concerns from the public and local groups. They argue against building solar parks because they believe these projects use up land that is valuable and necessary for farming.

But planning for large-scale solar PV farm projects (above 50 MW) should see a boost given they were included in the National Policy Statement – EN3, which came into force on 17 January 2024.

The policy states that the development of low-carbon infrastructure, such as solar farms, is a “critical national priority”. This means that the Secretary of State, who decides on these larger-scale projects - should generally grant consent to low-carbon infrastructure.

It also advises that solar farms should be sited on previously developed and non-agricultural land but does not prohibit the siting of solar farms on agricultural land.

Searchland Solar PV Planning Applications (2018-2023)
Source: Searchland solar PV planning applications UK (2018-2023)

What next?

After years of two and fro, it finally seems like large-scale renewable energy projects are back on the table - with policy backing the construction of new sites and finally allowing developers to get back to tools. So it looks like our renewable energy revolution is back on track.

And here’s the great news. We’ve rolled out a shedload of amazing tools specifically for those looking to acquire sites for renewable energy projects. From our DNO tool, to solar energy layers, proximity search and newly refreshed direct-to-vendor letter feature - Searchland can help get your next energy project moving.

July 9, 2024

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