Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker has disclosed that it is his “ambition” for 20 GW of energy to be produced by solar panels in 2020 – effectively a tenfold increase in the number of solar farms currently built or being planned, the Telegraph has reported.
That level of solar power would amount to panels covering a total area of land equivalent to more than 100 times the size of London’s Olympic Park.
However, ministers have been warned that such a steep increase in power could overload Britain’s electricity system.
National Grid, the body responsible for the transmission of electricity across Britain, told Mr Barker’s Department of Energy and Climate Change last year that building more than 10 GW of solar panels would make controlling the grid “significantly more challenging in its current form”.
The warning suggests that solar farms will, like wind farms, have to be paid not to produce electricity.
Mr Barker’s stated his “ambition” for 20 GW of solar energy to be produced by 2020 in a speech delivered last week to foreign investors. The figure had previously been used as a theoretical upper limit by the DECC.
The expansion target comes as subsidies are being offered to solar developers under the government’s Renewables Obligation scheme.
The subsidies, known as Renewable Obligations Certificate payments, are proportionate to the amount of energy produced and come on top of the money solar farm owners make from selling electricity.
Under the system developers currently building solar farms receive up to £85 for each MWh of energy generated.
However, the disclosure of the government’s plans for the expansion of solar energy raises the possibility that solar farms will also have to be paid to shut down during the summer months when they produce the most electricity, according to the Telegraph.
Electricity is not stored under the current system and on warmer days when more energy is being produced than is being used by consumers the National Grid pays power stations to reduce the amount of electricity they produce.
In the briefing note sent to the DECC last year, National Grid indicated that any increase in the total power of solar beyond 10 GW would mean they would have to reduce the amount of electricity flowing into the system during the summer months.
A document produced by DECC officials in December estimated that up to 11.3 GW-worth of solar panels could be built by 2017.