A party conference for the solar industry?

Copper’s perspective ahead of Solar & Storage Live 2023

This year’s Solar and Storage Live conference is set to be the biggest yet!

The industry descends on the NEC in Birmingham for its annual showcase event from 17th-19th October.

 

Coming out of the recent political party conference season, Solar and Storage comes at a time when the role of communities in the planning process, net zero and utility-scale solar are all firmly on the political agenda. With a general election on the immediate horizon too, clear battle lines are starting to be drawn.

Despite rumours in a recent Observer piece threatening a resurgence in proposed restrictions to solar farms on agricultural land, the sector can breathe a cautious sigh of relief that, as of yet, there has been no real evidence of a change in policy on this from Rishi Sunak. What the Prime Minster did do however, was to use his recent party conference speech to advocate for a wider rollback of net zero commitments to 2050.

In contrast, the would-be Prime Minister in waiting, Keir Starmer, has put commitment to the development of clean energy front and centre in Labour’s vision for power. At the Labour Party conference, Shadow Secretary for Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, also pledged to bring forward an Energy Independence Act which would implement measures for the UK electricity system to be 100% clean power by 2030, and defend the UK against shocks in the global energy market. He also announced that Labour wanted to work with businesses to increase investment, with £2.5bn committed from the public purse to help clean energy industries.

Rejecting Sunak’s recent withdrawal of green policies and investment, Starmer stressed the importance of ‘speeding up’ investment in clean energy. Shadow Minister for Industry and Decarbonisation, Sarah Jones, when speaking at a fringe event on the role the gird can play in unlocking net zero, emphasised that listening to the views of local communities will be essential for this. For utility-scale solar projects, this could also mean rewards of discounted energy bills for the communities hosting them.

Energy Minister, Graham Stuart, will be addressing the industry in person in Birmingham this week. He spoke positively about the role of solar to meet net zero when he addressed the Solar Energy UK’s summer reception earlier this year, and delegates will be wanting to hear more of the same at the NEC.

Copper’s latest report of public attitudes to solar – published earlier this year – found overwhelming support for the technology. But local uncertainty of development naturally leads to doubts during the planning process where reassurance needs to be the strongest. The industry must cut through myths and misinformation to build meaningful consensus and a societal licence for the role which solar, particularly at a utility-scale, will play in achieving UK energy security and net zero.

 

Copper will be attending Solar & Storage Live from 17th-19th October – You can find Copper for a chat on RSK Group’s stand N11 in Hall 5.

On day two our Director Sam Cranston and Senior Account Manager Imogen Fawcett will each be sharing their insights on community-based solar engagement and how to gain public support. If you’re attending and would like to discuss what the recent party conferences mean for solar as we head into the next general election, or how we can bring communities along with us.

Claire Coutinho MP appointed as Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero on the 31 August 2023.

Replacing Grant Shapps, who has been appointed Secretary of State for Defence following the resignation of the previous Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace. Before this appointment, Coutinho was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Families and Wellbeing, and an MP for the East Surrey constituency.

Our briefing analyses Coutinho’s views on energy policy, and the likely implications of her appointment for the sector. You can read the full briefing here The New Energy Secretary

If you would like to find out more about how Copper can help you navigate changes to energy policy, please contact Phoebe Sullivan.

 

Despite a now widespread understanding of the concept of climate change, and our global drive to Net Zero, it’s surprising just how low UK public awareness and understanding of renewable energy is.

There are also some interesting divisions in knowledge and support across certain demographics. Our report provides useful insights on helping segments of society to better understand renewables and engage.

To read our report, click here.

To find out more about our research into renewables, check out our recent reports into nuclear and solar.

A lot has moved on since our 2022 research was published. There are now well over ten solar projects being explored publicly as part of the NSIP regime in the UK. We’ve also seen significant announcements in the 2023 Spring Budget.

So how can we deliver quality solar projects at the scale needed and bring the community along for the journey?

Read the report, we’ve written in collaboration with Solar Energy UK here – 2023 – a transformative year for Solar: a study of public attitudes to solar development

Read our previous report here – 2022 – A bright future for solar: a study into public attitudes to solar energy

Challenge

HyNet North West is an innovative low carbon and hydrogen energy project that will unlock a low carbon economy for the North West and North Wales and put the region at the forefront of the UK’s drive to net zero.

As the project moves towards a more public-facing stage, we were tasked with evolving the HyNet North West brand and creating a series of assets to explain the project.

Website

We developed the UI designs and redeveloped the HyNet webite, simplifying the navigation and streamlining information. We created a series of graphics and assets that could be utilised across multiple channels, as well as on the website.

Consultation hub

Sitting alongside the website, we developed a consultation microsite to support the first consultation on the HyNet North West project. The look and feel reflected the overarching HyNet brand.

Social

We develop social graphics to support HyNet’s key messages, encourage engagement and explain complex concepts to stakeholders and the public.

Animation

HyNet North West is made up of several different projects, the first of which is a carbon capture pipeline. We designed and delivered an animation to help explain key elements of the project in an accessible way, enabling people to easily respond to the project’s public consultation.

Challenge

Providing clear, non-technical explanations of complex concepts is a crucial part of what we do. But just as important is ensuring that when we make the message more accessible, we do not compromise on technical accuracy. In this example, the client asked us to describe the challenge of rising energy demand for server cooling operations and to illustrate how a radical new solution could transform this requirement. A complex story that needed a light-touch visual style.

We sit between marketers, who need to make strong claims, and scientists and engineers, who tend to be cautious and rightly insist on technical integrity. There are also legal teams to keep happy.

All our writers have science or engineering degrees. This helps us to work with our creative colleagues to make a splash while respecting technical accuracy.

Creativity is important, but not at the expense of technical accuracy. As this example shows, we can offer you both.

Challenge

Moving from a ‘house of brands’ to ‘hybrid branding under a parent brand’

Acteon’s strategy was to move from a collection of individual brands operating under an umbrella name to a more formal hybrid-branding approach. The branded services, product lines and expertise were to be structured into eight strategic business segments that aligned with customer needs. These segments would combine the overall Acteon brand with the strongest existing brand in each segment. We helped define how these would be presented and described.

CS-Insight-v2

Insight

Times change and company activities change with them. Familiar product and service brands are re-named, retired, merged or moved to new homes. And the effects of these changes are felt most keenly at the client interface. Those who manage brands want to ensure that any new structure brings clarity and attracts new business, without alienating existing customers. This was exactly the challenge that we took on when we helped a major engineering group modify its service structure branding.

The UK has been at the forefront of the offshore wind industry over the last decade.

With more than 10 GW of installed offshore wind capacity today, the UK establishes itself as a world leader, a journey which has seen capacity significantly increase from less than just 1.5 GW in 2010. The rapid growth of the UK offshore wind sector can be attributed to several factors, including government support, technological advancements, and the falling cost of this renewable energy. Copper Consultancy looks back at the accelerated development of this crucial energy source, and looks ahead to what the future holds for the sector.

In 2011, the Government made it clear in its UK Renewable Energy Roadmap that significant reductions in the cost of electricity from offshore wind was required to encourage development in the technology. Offshore wind energy was recognised as a crucial part of the government’s commitment to decarbonising the economy, and that innovation was necessary to achieve cost reduction on a large scale, to enable a more competitive source of renewable energy.

The Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force was established in 2011 to produce an action plan for cost reduction, and in 2012 The Crown Estate published an industry report covering the same topic. Combined, these set the path for industry and government collaboration for the next decade which has led to the cost of energy from offshore wind dropping below even the best-case industry predictions at the time. When the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008, UK offshore wind projects were producing energy at roughly £170 per megawatt hour. Fast forward to present day, and this figure now stands well under £50 per megawatt hour, signifying a monumental shift and a journey which has helped encourage mass development.

During the last decade

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme was also set up by government to support low-carbon electricity generation thus incentivising investment in renewables. By ensuring developers receive a fixed, pre-agreed price for the low carbon energy produced, CfD provided financial assurance to developers which would incur substantial upfront costs and long project lifecycles before seeing a return on investment. For offshore wind, across the four CfD Allocation Rounds since the first in 2015, contracts have been awarded for 16 projects with a combined capacity of over 16 GW. This includes Orsted’s Hornsea Three in the latest round which is set to become the world’s biggest offshore wind farm.

While CfD is providing assurances to developers for projects that will become operational in the future, over the past decade a number of offshore wind projects pre-CfD have started generating electricity and adding tangible contributions to the UK’s low-carbon economy. Projects including Hornsea One (1.2 GW) and Walney Extension (0.7 GW) have been some of the first wind farms to navigate the development consent regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), and have lived the project lifecycle from pre-application, through to construction and operation.

They have had to deal with the difficulties of traversing a new planning regime, including the requirements for developing detailed environmental information and delivering robust consultations to explain the impacts of these projects to stakeholders and communities. These projects helped pave the way and provided confidence to the industry that projects can successfully be delivered from start to finish under this regime. In total, 11 offshore wind farms have been consented through the development consent regime, three are in construction and eight are operational, with more currently in the pre-application stages.

Offshore wind has flourished.

This was more recently evidenced through Vattenfall securing the National Infrastructure Planning Association’s award for Best Project, for both its Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farms, which demonstrates how offshore wind projects have excelled and delivered best practice while tackling challenges around protecting the environment and delivering consultation and stakeholder engagement at scale.

Looking to the future, offshore wind is expected to play an increasing role in the UK’s energy mix. In 2019, the government passed legislation committing the UK to a ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, and at the same time the government and the Offshore Wind Industry Council signed a Sector Deal for offshore wind in the UK which included a target of 30 GW of installed capacity by 2030. This was increased to 40 GW in the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which is nearly quadruple the installed capacity today, demonstrating the political backing and ambitions for the sector. In the 2022 British Energy Security Strategy the target was further increased to 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Technological advancements will be a key factor in achieving this milestone.

We have already seen the size of the turbines increase, advances in technology to allow offshore wind farms to be built in deeper waters, the development of floating offshore wind, advances in cable technology, and more. Innovation is expected to continue, further reducing the offshore wind costs and facilitating even more, and larger projects to come forward.

However, this is not without its challenges. While the Crown Estate leases its offshore sites to developers all around the UK’s borders, there are only a limited number of onshore connection points where the electricity generated can be distributed to homes and businesses. With the UK’s grid capacity feeling the strain, offshore wind farms are often co-locating within the same local authority boundaries and being required to connect to the same onshore substations. Increasing the number of projects will exacerbate this, and significant upgrades will be required to the onshore transmission network over the coming years in order to meet the demands of not only offshore wind, but renewable energy generation in general. An independent report of the UK’s Offshore Wind Champion, released in March 2023, made recommendations and identified opportunities for government and industry to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind projects in the UK, and one of the key messages was to stress the urgent need to upgrade the national grid, as grid connections are increasingly becoming the rate-limiting factor for UK offshore wind deployment.

As more offshore wind projects come forward

The cumulative impacts are also likely to increase and the industry will face further challenges surrounding impacts to the environment, consultation fatigue and increased opposition from communities as a result. Stakeholder groups are already lobbying for an offshore transmission network review to help reduce the impacts onshore across multiple projects, and increased opposition during the consenting process could slow down project development and jeopardise the 50 GW by 2030 target.

It is more important than ever for developers to clearly explain their projects using accessible and engaging methods to build understanding and support among communities, and to continue developing projects within the policy framework set by the government. Collaboration will also be important to build understanding across projects and manage any potential cumulative impacts, especially during the construction phase.

Another key dependency for the development of offshore wind over the coming years is the capability of the supply chain. Having enough skilled workers available to construct multiple projects that move into the construction phase at a similar time will be a key challenge, and industry collaboration will be fundamental to managing this.

The offshore wind industry has already proven it can work together to innovate.

Through organisations such as The Carbon Trust’s research, deployment and development programme, the Offshore Wind Accelerator, and to collaborate, such as through the EastWind Offshore Cluster, which is set up to drive the implementation of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal (OWSD). Investment in local skills and employment will be critical to achieving the industry commitment set out in the OWSD of 60% local content by 2030.

Despite the challenges there is plenty to be optimistic about. Over the last decade the UK’s offshore wind sector has seen a period of rapid growth and development, making significant progress in reducing costs, increasing capacity, and driving technological innovation. Looking ahead, the fifth CfD Allocation Round, and both the Celtic Sea floating offshore wind and ScotWind 2 leasing rounds signify the next key milestones for the industry. The sector is poised for continued growth and success in transitioning the UK to a low-carbon economy.

For more information or to talk to us about Copper’s work in the offshore wind sector, please contact Sam Cranston at Sam.Cranston@copperconsultancy.com.

 

 

Copper Consultancy Director for Energy Infrastructure Sam Cranston and Account Manager Alex Rowntree explore new opportunities for community engagement as the UK’s energy storage pipeline goes from strength to strength.

2022 was the year of growth for renewable energy generation. Favourable market conditions spurred on sustained investment in new infrastructure, whilst public backing for net zero has gone from strength to strength as the UK seeks to become more energy independent following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.  

Such growth, however, presents new challenges and opportunities for the energy storage sector. New generation capacity has undeniably accelerated the need for new storage infrastructure. A recent study from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) linked to their ongoing Review of Electricity Markets (REMA) consultation, for example, highlights that in a high-demand scenario, energy storage is required to grow sixfold to 350GW by 2050. With equity investment in long duration, the technology now catching-up with solar and the recent balancing mechanism on constraint costs cutting development fees, market conditions are now ripe for further growth.  

But, without clear and proactive messaging and new forms of engagement, there is a clear risk that local opposition to new projects will inhibit the sector’s success.  

Just as we’ve seen with last year’s solar boom, public understanding of the benefits of storage will be key to limiting the risk of opposition. With new projects now required to go through the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Act) consenting process following the Infrastructure Planning (Electricity Storage Facilities) Order 2020, the risk of applications being overturned or challenged at appeal has been heightened considerably. For the rollout to succeed, we need a clear and proactive national narrative on the benefits of the technology that can be clearly tailored to communities at a local level.  

Developing new storage infrastructure, for example, can help accelerate the transition to Distribution Systems Operators managing the network – reducing reliance on substations and opening new developable land that can mitigate direct impacts on communities and landholders. Storage can also be used to save operational costs in powering the grid, helping to offset the costs to consumers by preserving low-cost energy and deploying it later during peak periods. Copper Consultancy and Solar Energy UK’s joint report, Public attitudes to solar, highlights that most people consider low-cost energy to be a key benefit of renewable technology and impact on local wildlife a main disadvantage. Dispelling early myths around storage and highlighting its unique potential as having little cumulative environmental impact as well as being a crucial component of cutting consumer cost is an example of a small but impactful measure that will have an important role in generating public buy-in.  

While considerable effort has gone into communicating our mission to reach net zero by 2050, cutting energy storage out of the national narrative, largely due to its limited cumulative impact, will only diminish public understanding of its importance.  

A national programme will take time to both get moving and to have an impact. But rethinking how we engage communities will allow the industry to lead at the forefront of this messaging and match the scale of our collective ambition to reach net zero.