Time to realise the power of renewables?December 2013
This year Ofgem announced that Britain will face an energy drought by 2015, as our ageing coal fired power stations are systematically decommissioned. Whilst the materialization of Hinkley Point C will make a contribution to plugging the gap without further perpetuating our dependency on fossil fuels, this new power station will only be of use in 10 years’ time, at the earliest.
As 2014 approaches, something needs to be done urgently to address our energy security needs. The technology we need does exist – a solar farm capable of powering thousands of homes can be operational in a matter of weeks, without harming the global environment or the ground it sits on. The solar sector in the UK is gaining traction and the experience in Italy and Germany has shown that the solar industry has the capability to deliver the same energy production as Hinkley Point C in less than 2 years and at a comparable cost. So why isn’t everyone talking about it?
Unfortunately, debates are consistently focussed around aesthetics and “green taxes” instead. It is frustrating for the renewable industry that one of the points fuelling debates around green levies is based on a misconception – that paying for a sustainable future is already taking a significant toll on energy bills. In reality, Renewable Obligations, which incentivise most new utility scale solar farm developments, make up only 5% of the average household energy bill. Once a solar farm is deployed, there are no volatile raw material costs involved in the generation of energy, so the cost of buying renewable energy is stable. As the price of fossil fuels continues to rise and the cost of solar technology continues to fall, investment in solar will start to combat the ever increasing strain which our dependency on fossil fuels puts on household budgets.
We are urging the Government, and the public, to shift the focus away from “green tax” debates and development beauty contests, as these arguments will remain meaningless if our energy security needs are not addressed right now and in the right way.
The mechanism in place for the deployment of renewables in the UK has already proven that it works. Over the last 5 years, government schemes have encouraged massive investment from the private sector, which has resulted in the birth of a new industry, the creation of local jobs and a new way of diversifying farm land.
Contrary to the unfounded opinions of some, the benign, temporary structures which make up a solar farm do not harm the land they sit on. In fact, solar farms create pockets of passively used land which allow biodiversity levels to soar. The land on a solar farm is typically 70% open grassland, so this also provides further options for farmland diversification by grazing small livestock such a sheep or chickens. Sheep grazing in particular is a tried and tested solution proving it is possible to deploy renewables in such a way that food and energy are produced simultaneously.
So how do we move forward? Britain needs to realise that as a nation, we have the capability of taking matters into our own hands, and the progress towards sustainability does not need to harm our landscape. Integrating renewable technology into our farms, our communities and our way of life has the potential to safeguard our environment, our economy and our energy supply for generations to come.
Mark Turner is operations director of Lightsource Renewable Energy
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