Panel highlights | Powering the future: Scaling commercial solar in the UK

By: Holly Homewood


We hosted our first panel discussion, chaired by Metris co-founder Natasha Jones, to explore the barriers in commercial solar adoption in the UK and how to overcome them.

Rebekah Needham from CBRE, George Gawthrop from East Green Energy and Jamie Baxter from Carter Jonas, joined us to share how they’re thinking about the energy transition, and tackling some of the biggest barriers the real estate industry is faced with when it comes to installing solar.

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Does solar move the needle? 

Solar is the cheapest and easiest way to improve your EPC score, and in some cases can help properties improve by two grades, for example from an EPC rating of C to A. Whilst the EPC framework is not the most comprehensive way to measure the energy efficiency of a building, it helps businesses think about the low hanging fruit in carbon reduction and take the most accessible steps to improve. 

Whilst the impact of solar on embodied carbon is generally negative, owing mainly to the panel manufacturing, the decrease in operational carbon is vast and nets out as an overall redundancy of whole life carbon. There are a number of carbon calculation tools you can use to analyse the overall impact of solar on the whole life carbon of a building, which you can learn more about here

Given the current cost of energy, solar is increasingly moving the needle for businesses, and tenants find their energy bill can be reduced by up to 70%.

Many landlords are seeing EV chargers and solar as an alternative investment that can increase the profitability of their building. In some cases, landlords have opted to sell power to tenants via a PPA which could be a win-win - the tenant gets cheaper energy and the landlord generates extra income. In other cases, landlords have agreed to 'rentalise' the solar investment to keep their income streams uniform. However, with no standard valuation method it’s challenging to quantify the financial reward for solar and determine if solar increases property values.

Another way solar can move the needle for landlords is increasing tenant retention. Net Zero and ESG strategies are of growing importance to businesses, and tenants will prioritise working with a landlord that can support these goals.

The industry’s biggest barriers to solar

The complexity of leases in the UK is one of the major challenges in commercial solar adoption. In a lot of cases, the occupier owns the roof, meaning they're liable if there are any issues. The variety and intricacy of leases can also mean it's very time consuming and costly to draw up contracts, deterring businesses from completing the project.

Compared to other countries, there is a lack of policy here in the UK. In France the owner of a warehouse building with a floor area of more than 500 m2 must include either a renewable energy production process or a vegetation system. The policy requests that 30% of the roof of the building is covered from 1 July 2023; 40% from 1 July 2026; 50% from 1 July 2027. In comparison, the UK's regulations have changed frequently and with the likelihood of a new government, they could be set to change again in the near future.

Working with the National Grid

It’s best to start off with an open conversation about what you need to export. If you can run an in depth analysis of your energy consumption using a Building Management System, and your predicted solar energy production, it will speed up the process.

As the Grid is more likely to accept your application if you're not exporting high amounts of energy, it's recommended that you design a system that is ‘energy optimised’ - producing the optimal amount of energy for your needs - rather than installing a full roof that produces excess energy.

If it’s a new build it can be hard to predict the energy consumption but using a site that’s similar can help. Secondly, if you plan to electrify the building, such as replacing gas boilers or adding EV chargers, including this in your energy consumption report means your solar design will be future proofed. Again, it's recommended you use data from a similar site or industry benchmarks.

Predictions for the future solar market

The panellists agreed that whilst the solar market might be stagnant for the time being, the Net Zero goal is getting closer, and if a new government is elected in July there will be more investment into renewables, stricter policies implemented, and more PPA funds emerge.

If these predictions are correct, the future is bright for the solar industry. Whilst there are a number of challenges, it seems the industry is busy finding work arounds and resolutions, making solar adoption easier.

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