Solar could be the answer to the UK’s energy crisis…if communities can work together
Shovel ready solar
Solar Energy UK recently reported that there are a whopping 7GW of ‘shovel ready’ solar installations waiting to get underway across the country. To put that into context, the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor has been touted as having the potential to produce around 3.2GW of energy once it becomes operational, so the impact of these solar programmes were they to get up and running would be enormous.
Completion of Hinkley Point is due in June 2026, ten years after it was first given the go ahead for development and still four years away. Clearly though, time is of the essence given the backdrop of soaring energy prices and a desire to replace any UK reliance on Russian gas in the wake of its conflict with Ukraine. Solar Energy UK claims that the 7GW of approved and authorised solar installations could be exporting to the grid within just two years – that’s potentially over twice the reward in half the time. The savings this could confer are similarly impressive, with new solar farms generating electricity for less than £50 for 1 MWh. Compare that to the agreed price for electricity from the Hinkley reactor which stood at £92 per MWh, and the cost of gas in recent weeks which has been averaging around £225 per MWh.
Support for renewables
We firmly believe in the need to ramp up provision of solar in the UK, and indeed worldwide. However, as referenced in a recent article in the Telegraph to which we contributed, communities are often at odds with the planned expansion in renewable energy projects due in no small part to poor communication. Despite polling carried out last year which suggests 70 per cent of people in the UK support the local planning system encouraging new renewable energy projects, when faced with the prospect of a huge project on their doorstep, many are put off. Often, campaigners cite the ‘industrialisation of the countryside’ as a reason to oppose schemes which they believe put viable farming land at risk. So, what is the solution?
Well, I am enthused by findings from Oxford PV when utilising a relatively new mineral called perovskite, which seems to show at least a 20% increase in efficiency compared to current silicone-based panels. Widespread adoption could therefore make smaller rooftop installations more cost effective for businesses and households alike. Essentially, it could mean that we’re able to harness more of the sun’s energy, reducing the area we need to generate the same output which should lead to fewer objections from those concerned for the future of the countryside...
Working together in Wiltshire
Already in Wiltshire, people seem to be on board with solar albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Centrica has recently begun work on an 18MW array at Codford in Warminster as part of wider plans to build a 650MW portfolio by 2026, while here at WWCE plans are afoot to bring a new 1-2MW project to fruition at Petersfinger alongside a further rooftop array proposed at Silverwood School. Unlike some of the more hotly debated mega projects in the county, such as the circa 50MW Leigh Delamere Solar development, we prioritise smaller scale schemes and work closely with communities to gain support for them early on in the planning process. It’s this early community involvement and consultation which in my view is essential to ensuring the success of future solar farm prospects, understanding and responding to the concerns of those who will be living next door to but ultimately benefiting from such sites. By working together through enterprises like WWCE, solar has the potential to be the lifeline that people and indeed the planet, so desperately need…