The Department of Energy and Climate Change
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) originally set a target for 20 GigaWatts of solar power to be installed by 2020. DECC policy however changes constantly, each year bringing what appear to be kneejerk changes. Q1 of 2014 saw 1.1GW of solar pv installed, predominantly large scale ground mounted solar farms. Delegates to the Large Scale Solar Conference held from 29th April to 1st May 2014 at Newark, over 10% of whom were from District Councils who had paid to attend to learn how to deal with solar farm developments, were surprised to hear that large scale solar might be tinkered with in favour of small scale commercial rooftop installations.
The following week the ROC Scheme for installations over 5MW was abruptly terminated and the Contracts for Difference regime was announced. The CfD regime is intended to guarantee predictable competitive rates of return for large scale solar developments and government thinking is that the original 20GW target will be met using domestic and commercial rooftops. Unfortunately most domestic roofs are not suitable for a variety of reasons and commercial roofs present challenges related to short term leases and structural integrity. Small scale installations are very time consuming, incur high costs such as surveying and regulatory paperwork, scaffolding, difficulties and dangers involved in handling solar panels at roof level in all weathers and the spasmodic nature of the work that makes them at least twice as expensive kiloWatt for kiloWatt as large scale ground mounted systems. In reality, for the consumer, the only affordable way forward for low cost renewable electricity is large scale ground mount supported to a lesser extent by new build installations with new roofs.
The Argument for Nuclear Power, Continuity and Transport
The proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will take 20 years to build – 10 years in planning and 10 years in construction and the power it will generate will cost eight times that paid by today's consumers. In effect the government has financed Electricité de France to build a nuclear power station by promising to pay them about 8 times the going rate for their electricity. As with so much of our infrastructure the tax take will ultimately end up outside Britain and the investment will be financed down the line by the British consumer. A typical political strategy of putting off the evil day for someone else to sort out while faceless investors rake in the spoils.
At the present construction rate the solar energy industry could easily build the clean energy equivalent of a Hinkley Point in less than 20 years. Nuclear reactors produce very large amounts of a by product known as Hot Waste which includes contaminated water, rubber gloves and clothing used by power plant workers. There are already thousands of tons of Hot Waste that nobody wants which generally has a half life of 10,000 years. The chances of storing it for that long without major incidents are zero. The most likely outcome will be a serious ground or sea water contamination leading to widespread cancer. This situation is being further exacerbated by spent fuel from our outdated nuclear submarine fleet which needs to be stored in a terrestrial nuclear facility.
However, on the upside, recent technology advances, particularly related to graphene, a material invented at Manchester University in which the government has invested heavily, will lead to substantial increases in solar panel efficiency and electricity storage technologies which will allow baseload renewable energy to be used round the clock leading to the global acceptance of clean energy zero carbon electric transport. Every single major car manufacturer and several smaller ones including the pre-eminent Tesla, McLaren, Lamborghini and Ferrari has announced hybrid or fully electric models. The technology is being pioneered by Formula 1 and in a new professional motor racing championship, Formula E, which uses entirely electrically powered racing cars, that was introduced for 2014. There is no doubt whatsoever that the future of transport lies with clean energy be it hybrid or exclusively electricity. In 20 years time fossil fuel powered vehicles will be regarded in the same way that we now regard smoking in restaurants and dropping litter. Beneficial technology always gains wide public acceptance when it becomes affordable.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change View
The recently released technology report by the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that if we are to avoid runaway climate change the only way forward is renewable energy and that the days of climate change denial are indisputably over. The only people to resist this are the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders who have been told by the IPCC that 80% of the fossil fuel resources supporting their balance sheets can never be burned without destroying the planet. See the video of Jonathon Porritt at the top of this page.
The Bank of England View
On 13th October 2014 Mark Carney the Governor of the Bank of England reiterated his warning that fossil fuel companies cannot burn all of their reserves if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change and called for investors to consider the long term impacts of their decisions. Mr. Carney told a World Bank seminar on integrated reporting that “the vast majority of oil reserves are unburnable if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2°C.” In consequence major investors are actively divesting themselves of carbon investments on a large scale and moving to renewables.
The Lloyds of London View
Further evidence of the challenge, if it were needed, has been added by Lloyds of London who recently announced that they have started factoring global warming into their insurance policies because the evidence shows that for every 1° Celsius increase in ocean temperature, average hurricane speeds are increasing by 10 metres per second.
The Hard Nosed Investors and The People
News of renewable energy policy shifts and change in investment strategy arrives daily. There is a massive shift away from fossil fuels and recent news includes announcements from numerous global corporations that they have withdrawn all fossil fuel support. For example the Rockefellers whose wealth was founded on oil are redirecting $860 million into renewable energy. Coal India, the world's largest coal miner, is in talks with the Indian Government about investing $1.2 billion to develop 1,000MW of solar power plants. On 23rd September 2014 French president François Hollande promised $1bn to the Green Climate Fund at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York. Leaders of Switzerland, Denmark, Norway among others have also pledged significant sums.
On 21st September 2014 the People's Climate March campaigned for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the U.N. climate summit in Manhattan. Some 310,000 people joined a march that was attended by U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon. Earlier that day huge demonstrations had been held in Australia and Europe. "This is the planet where our subsequent generations will live," Mr Ban told reporters. "There is no 'Plan B' because we do not have 'Planet B'." The U.N. Secretary General was accompanied by primatologist Jane Goodall and Ségolène Royal, France's Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. New York hosted the largest of Sunday's protests, drawing more than half of the 600,000 marchers estimated by organisers to have taken part in rallies around the world.
We Need Hardly Any Space At All
The total U.K. land area is 24.37 million hectares. 20 GigaWatts of solar energy, using today’s technology would require 40,000 hectares – only 0.164% of Britain’s total land area. Hart District Council Planning Department has projected that between 2011 and 2032 the estimated total housing need within Hart is 7,534 dwellings which will require between 150 and 300 hectares.
To put that in perspective the U.K. renewable energy target of 20GW could be met by large scale solar using only about 150 times the land Hart needs to meet its housing target and that's a very small proportion of Britain's under-used low grade unfarmed land.
In 25 years solar panels wll probably be a quarter of the size and four times the power that they are now. That means that a lot of solar farm land will be returned to high quality agricultural use especially if some of the revenue earned by the landowners is invested back into improving land quality while it is not being farmed with fertilisers and insecticides. Solar farming will generate the revenue to enable them to do that.
Solar technology therefore brings major benefits to today's hard-pressed farmers and a lot of promise for future generations.