Over 150 companies have signed a letter which was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron 7th July 2014. The letter is urging him to support the UK’s thriving solar industry and support UK solar farms and providers. Top dog companies that have signed the letter include: Ikea, The Eden Project, and Finesse Energy Ltd. The letter comes after the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) closes their talks about removing the renewable obligation support for solar farms over 5MW. This has been described by some of the leading solar suppliers and experts as a “kick in the teeth”. Without this support the predicted £78 billion per year global solar market (by 2020) becomes an impossible target.
Support UK Solar: The Home-Grown Energy Crisis Solution
Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association explained: “Solar is a home-grown solution to Britain’s energy crisis. If the government provides a stable policy environment solar will soon be subsidy free. But the government is now proposing to tilt the playing field against large-scale solar, while not taking sufficient action to unlock commercial rooftop solar – that is unacceptable. We urge DECC not to close the Renewables Obligation to large-scale solar and to rethink proposals on feed-in tariffs to allow a meaningful rooftop market which their own Solar PV Strategy recognises has such tremendous potential.”
Government Needs to Wake Up to Renewable Markets
Jeremy Leggett, chair of SolarAid and non-executive chairman of SolarCentury added: “Despite all of the incredible achievements of the UK solar industry since 2010, it’s still very clear that the Whitehall mind-set has yet to catch up. Too much of the wording in the current solar consultation has the whiff of Groundhog Day about it. It’s time that the government woke up to the fact that, with stable support, jobs rich UK solar will be cheaper than onshore wind during the next Parliament, opening up immense opportunities for UK PLC and driving down the costs of delivering the 2020 renewable energy target in the process.
You can read the full letter in the link below.
SolarPowerPortal: David Cameron Told To Support UK Solar by Over 150 Companies
Energy demands across the world are soaring and the price is still climbing for the end users. As the population grows and more technology (electric cars, more appliances for the kitchen, etc.) is added this strain is only going to increase. To meet the rising demand for energy more pylons, cabling, resources, and man-hours will be required, which could add up to £1,000 per year by 2050 to the end users bill. (Quotation from S&C Electric the power services company.)
At the moment, in the UK, renewable energy sources are growing at a steady rate but even they cannot match the growing demand required. Renewable sources are also not constant: the days where there is no wind for the windmills and no sun for the solar panels means less energy is created.
Which leads to the question: how can this issue be solved? Are we facing an energy crisis?
A suggestion from Anthony Price from the UK’s Electricity Storage Network is that we look at how the UK stores it’s energy. If energy was stored and saved during the lulls between high demand then it could be used as a back-up for when it soars again. This would cover the gaps in the renewable energy sources as the surplus energy created on great days could be saved for the rainy days. This ruling would also mean that the windmills are not turned off once their quota has been reached and instead could be saved for the future.
How to Store Energy: Pumped Hydro and Efficient Batteries?
There are a few ways to store energy from pumped hydro to powerful and efficient batteries (currently being implemented around the world). The Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab estimates that if we were to invest in better energy storage that it could save the UK £10bn per year by 2050. The estimates from Lux Research suggest the global industry for energy storage could be worth $100bn in the next few years.
Andrew Jones at S&C Electric believes the real difference will happen when smart meters installed in homes will know when to turn appliances off. This could lead to a give and taken relationship when the power is needed elsewhere. For example, turning the television off from standby so the power could be used to balance the rest of the grid. Germany is already starting to implement these types of smart appliances.
The bigger picture and Your Bill
This could then lead to a larger scale operation where small-scale power generation is feasible. Households and businesses already sell energy back into the grid but soon any device able to store energy could also feed it back. The electric car not being used could turn into the battery required to power something else as connectivity grows. The technology isn’t there yet but it’s headed in that exciting direction and could save the UK a fortune. According to S&C Electric the original £1,000 predicted for end users bills by 2050 it could be as little as £100 if smart grids and energy storage were implemented.
A team of researchers at Liverpool University have discovered a way of replacing the toxic element in the manufacturing process of making solar panels. This could mean cheaper solar energy. The key: a material that is found in bath salts or tofu. Their aim: to make solar panel manufacture cheap enough to compete with conventional power generation.
The Science Behind The Discovery
Here’s the science part: 90% of all solar cells are made from silicon and at least 7% are made from cadmium telluride. The cadmium telluride cells are thinner than the silicon panels and are more popular due to the cheaper manufacturing costs. However what they save in pennies and pounds is poured back in resources cost. They use the toxic material cadmium chloride which is expensive, a limited resource and very rare, and needs to be disposed of as contaminated waste product in current manufacture. Using the non-toxic alternative, magnesium chloride which is extracted from seawater, could work instead. It is completely safe, creating no chemical/contaminated waste product, and is typically found in bath salts.
The Simplified Version
By using the alternative chemical (magnesium chloride) to make solar panels we could cut out a lot of the waste and also cost! There would be no contaminated waste product which requires special procedures and disposal. This would mean a lower cost of disposing the waste and a lower cost for the planet. As a double whammy the cost of extracting the chemical (magnesium chloride) is also cheaper.
Physicist, Dr Jon Major from the University’s Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, carried out the research. He said: “If renewable energy is going to compete with fossil fuels then the cost has to come down. Great strides have already been made but the findings in this paper have the potential to reduce costs further.”
The Future: Cheaper Solar Energy
Your future solar panels could be (and possibly should be) manufactured using a chemical that is obtained from seawater. Hopefully, if researchers continue to make these ground-breaking discoveries, the world could generate all of its energy from the sun and for a lot less! I look forward to when our entire range is manufactured with this new panel technology.
BBC News: Solar Cells Using Bath Salts
Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy at Liverpool University: Tofu Ingredient Could Revolutionise Solar Panel Manufacture
The UK has broken its own personal best solar power record in the last few weeks by nearly doubling its 2013 solar output for the same period. This is a massive step in the right direction and wasn’t predicted. (With the budget removed by the government it was feared this would shrink.) Solar capacity in the UK is difficult to measure due to massive array of small personal PV and solar cells on houses. However, it is estimated that last year the installed solar capacity generated from homes, buildings, and solar farms was 2.7GW. It has now risen to 4.7gw!
What the Experts Say
Ray Noble, consultant at the UK National Solar Centre, said this: “There are now 530,000 installations in the UK, of which 510,000 are domestic small-scale ones. Last weekend we estimated they generated about 8% of daytime electricity in total. We think that this is likely to double again within a year. There is nothing to stop it getting to 30-40% of UK electricity at this time of year.”
The Worldwide Picture
We’re not the only ones breaking records either! France, Italy, Denmark, and Germany (amongst others) are believed to have generated record amounts in June as well. Germany has been one of the fore-runners in moving to renewable energy for a long time. They managed a peak of 23.1GW hours at lunchtime Monday 9 June. This is equivalent to 50.6% of its total electricity need. It’ll be a long time before we can challenge them for the top spot but the UK certainly isn’t the last horse in the race.
Europe added 10.9GW of PV capacity in 2013 which made a total of 81GW worldwide!
The Guardian: UK and Germany break solar power records
UK National Solar Centre
The new Blackfriars rail station in London has opened this week. Taking only five years to build, the bridge crosses the River Thames, hosts Blackfriars rail station, and, surprisingly, boasts a total of 4,400 roof-mounted solar panels making it the world’s largest solar-powered bridge!
Solar-powered Bridge Will Cut Carbon Emissions
The panels are expected to cut the stations’ carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes per year. (That’s roughly the average weight of 73 African elephants for some fun perspective!) The photovoltaic panels will provide up to half of the energy for London Blackfriars station. This will reduce the carbon footprint of its train routes to the south east of England.
What First Capital Connect Said:
“Electric trains are already the greenest form of public transport!” David Statham, Managing Director of First Capital Connect stated, “This roof gives our passengers an even more sustainable journey. The distinctive roof has also turned the station into an iconic landmark visible for miles along the River Thames.”
The Company Behind the Solar-powered Bridge:
Solarcentury installed the panels in a series of phases over the past two years – only stopping to reduce inconvenience during the 2012 Olympic Games. It was one of the company’s most complex tasks to date as a giant jigsaw over a large river which was a lot more complicated than a warehouse rooftop where they would normally install them. “We had different sections of roof available at different times to fit in with this complicated jigsaw of getting everything up and going,” explained Gavin Roberts, Solarcentury’s senior project manager.
London’s Efforts and The Future!
It is expected that the new solar-powered bridge will give a major boost to London’s efforts to become a sustainable city. Solarcentury’s Suzanna Lashford, head of commercial sales, hopes the project will inspire more developers to turn towards other sources of renewable energy. She said, “Network Rail has invested funds into the project is a great sign for the solar industry. They’re an old English institution and they’re looking to the future to make investments into non-core technologies for the business, and that’s a great statement that other large corporations in the country can start realising.”
Sources: The Guardian: Worlds Largest Solar Powered Bridge Opens in London
Bristol £47m Solar Scheme
The Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, has cleared the first stage of the scheme to install £47m worth of solar rooftop panels over the next four years. The plan is to install the solar panels on council owned houses and public buildings as part of a bid to become European Green Capital in 2015. Bristol is also hoping to become the UK’s “Solar Capital” by installing 1GW of solar power by 2020.
Minister of State: Gregory Barker’s Solar Energy UK Speech
This comes after the announcement from Minister of State Gregory Barker’s speech to the Solar Energy UK conference, which set out the vision for growth of UK solar PV. Gregory Barker quoted “I think we can go faster and further. I am on record as having a personal ambition to see 20GW [in the UK] deployed by 2020. And I continue to believe that is possible.”
The Changes Needed
However, he also went on to explain that several things needed to change for this to become a reality:
- The Industry needs to drive down costs even quicker.
- Solar companies need to innovate faster.
- The energy sector needs to push for efficiency through the whole supply chain.
- Solar PV developers need work closer with local communities and avoid alienating them.
- And the energy and solar industry needs to look at export markets.
The Scheme Details
Bristol City Council confirmed yesterday that it has already started to seek contractors for the first £6m phase of the solar scheme. The formal tender process is expected to begin in January 2014 and start work in June. The programme could also cover more properties, depending on the success of the project and tenants, and could use some fields in the region to create larger solar panel arrays. The council said it plans to borrow money to pay for the phase, which will then be repaid by the feed-in tariff payments. The scheme could save occupiers £130-£260 a year and reduce council costs.
George Ferguson’s thoughts regarding the plans: “I really welcome this proposal. It is an important step forward which supports our environmental role, a leading one in Europe.”
Business Green: Bristol Shines with £47m Solar Scheme
Gov.uk: Solar Energy UK Roadmap Launch
5p per Plastic Bag
A 5p per plastic bag charge is coming to England. The fee, due to be launched in Autumn 2015, is being introduced by the government. It is hoped that the fee will discourage the use of plastic bags by making customers think twice. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to degrade, can kill animals, costs the tax-payers millions to clean up, and litter the countryside.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg quoted: “This is not a new problem. We’ve waited too long for action. That’s why I am drawing a line under the issue now.” He said he hoped any money raised would be donated to environmental charities although this is still to be discussed. In Wales the money is voluntarily donated to charities.
The charge, which includes bags made from both plastic and paper, is already in effect in Wales and Northern Ireland. The statistics here show an 80% reduction in plastic bag use since the fee was introduced. Northern Ireland had been discussing on whether to raise the charge to 10p but this was vetoed by Mark H Durkan because the present arrangements are successful.
Small businesses (with less than 250 employees) will be exempt from the charge and bags which meet the biodegradable standard will also be exempt as they are less harmful to the environment.
The Professional Opinions
The news has been met with differing opinions: Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director from Friends of the Earth, agreed that it is a step in the right direction but that the fee is not tackling the nation’s huge waste mountain and cannot hide the government’s woeful green record. He called for tougher action with more ambitious targets. While Matthew Sinclair, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, argued that the answer to every problem cannot be a new tax. He stated that the reward method when customers do not use plastic bags should be pursued instead.
Supermarkets are already encouraging customers to use their own bags with different schemes or point systems. Plastic bags are no longer at the end of the checkouts either and have to be asked for from the checkout assistant and are often smaller for customers purchasing only a few items.
Gov.uk: Plastic Bag Charge Set to Benefit the Environment
BBC News: Plastic Bag Charge to be Introduced in England