Solar panels on warehouses could help UK meet renewable targets and avoid future energy crises: UKWA

Potter Space Business Park, Ripon, already has solar panels in place on its warehouses. Image courtesy of Potter Space/UKWA

Potter Space Business Park, Ripon, already has solar panels in place on its warehouses. Image courtesy of Potter Space/UKWA

The UK’s warehouse sector could double the country’s solar energy capacity by putting photo-voltaic (PV) panels on rooves that together account for a third of all commercial roof space, says the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA). The UK could meet its 2030 renewable targets through this means alone, while avoiding a repeat of the current energy cost crisis, it says. The UKWA has produced new research that suggests the way the electricity grid currently works stands in the way of this aspiration – and it is calling on the new Prime Minister Liz Truss to take action on this.

The report, Investment case for solar power in warehousing and logistics, produced by specialist consultancy Delta Energy & Environment, will be published by UKWA later this week. It argues that the warehousing sector along could double the UK’s solar PV capacity by supplying an area equivalent to 18,500 acres of land for generation. This, it says, would be enough to more than meet the UK entire 2030 renewable requirements for 2030 – 18.8TwH – as set out in the National Grid future energy scenarios (FES).

Laurence Robinson, senior analyst at Delta-EE and co-author of the report, says: “Rooftop solar PV in warehousing can play a significant role in delivering local renewable energy, particularly in urban areas where limited alternative options are available due to land and planning constraints.

Just twenty percent of the UK’s largest warehouses can provide 75m square metres of roof space, avoiding the need to develop new land equivalent to the footprint of 500,000 houses.”

As yet, says the report, this option has been largely unexplored in the warehouse sector. It suggests the district network operators (DNO) that control access to the electricity grid are currently holding that back through factors including the cost and difficulty of access, which it describes as “exortionate and obstructive”. The UKWA is calling on Liz Truss to take action to remove these barriers to investment once she becomes Prime Minister later today.

The UKWA is putting forward specific reforms in areas from planning, where it wants to see grid permits and DNO operations reformed, to funding – where it wants to see the existing super deduction on capital investment extended from April 2023 to 2030 – to tax – where it wants the existing exemption of solar energy from business rates to continue.

UKWA chief executive Clare Bottle says: “Warehouse owners across the country are struggling to pay for gas-powered electricity from the grid, when they could be generating all the power they need and more from the roof of their buildings. Out of sight, easy to maintain and affordable, the case for solar should be obvious and yet we are being held back by poor market practice and failures of regulation.”

She adds: “We need a fundamental rethink of the way in which DNOs hold power over access to the grid, how they get renewable schemes connected to the grid and the prices they charge. As energy costs continue to rise, UKWA is calling on the government to support the sector in embracing solar PV as it transitions to electrification with transport fleets, forklifts and other mechanical handling equipment (MHE), automation and robotics, all of which will drive up demand for low-cost, sustainable electricity.”

The report will be launched at IMHX on Thursday morning, when Clare Bottle will be joined by Kevin McCann of Solar Energy UK, Thomas McMillan, energy director at Savills, Jenna Strover, head of commercial celivery at Potter Space and Laurence Robinson of Delta-EE in the Logistics Theatre. UKWA will also have a guide to solar PV installation for members who want to explore the option.

The UKWA represents 900 companies that operate about 12m sq m of warehousing from about 2,000 depots across the UK.

InternetRetailing has approached the Energy Networks Association for a comment, which will be added to this story once received.

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