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Posts tagged with: Department of Energy and Climate Change

Long before he became the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientific advisor, David Mackay lectured a course at Cambridge on how to perform back of the envelope calculations called ‘Order of Magnitude Physics.’ To teach the course, Prof. Mackay used a series of example calculations based on renewable energy. Little did I know that the examples he was using would later become part of a book he was writing (and little did he know of the fame and career change that it would bring) but it was listening to these lectures during my undergraduate that confirmed my ambition to work in the solar energy industry.

Already extremely concerned by the growing evidence for ‘human-caused’ climate change, Prof Mackay’s course taught me some astonishing facts, such as how the amount of solar energy delivered to the Earth is ten thousand times the total amount of energy we use over the course of a year. He made me realise that human civilisation has a huge amount of work to do to halt its greenhouse emissions, but he also gave me the hope through new technologies, we really can wean ourselves off fossil fuels without impacting our quality of lives too severely.

After a PhD and several years working in solar photovoltaics for a large company in Germany, I returned to the UK and was astonished to find that the Government has extremely low ambitions for solar energy and even more astonished that it is using David Mackay’s analysis, at least in part, to justify this. At present, the Treasury’s £360m cap on Feed-in tariffs means that support for solar PV at all scales will end by mid-2012 and limit solar PV capacity in the UK to less than 3% of Germany’s current installed base.

When I re-read Mackay’s key book ‘Sustainability Without the Hot Air,’ I find it paints a very compelling argument for solar energy. Prof Mackay repeatedly points out that solar energy can deliver far more energy than any other renewable energy technology in the UK, as illustrated by the fact that the amount of solar energy we receive in the UK is fifty times the total amount of energy we use, including transport and heating. At the time of writing, David Mackay singled out two hurdles for widespread solar adoption in the UK; cost and space. It seems as though these hurdles have been interpreted by the Government as insurmountable barriers, whereas careful re-examination of these hurdles using up-to-date figures reveals them to be significantly less onerous than Mackay first assumed.

In relation to costs, David Mackay states ”it will be wonderful if the cost of photovoltaic power drops in the same way that the cost of computer power has dropped over the last forty years.” This is exactly what has been demonstrated over the last 5 years. Jenny Chase, a solar energy analyst at the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance claims “In 2011 we expect an oversupply of solar panels which will put continued downward pressure on system prices.” In his book, David Mackay uses a solar electricity cost of €0.25 per kWh which is 4 times current wholesale electricity costs, but only twice the price of retail electricity, and seeing as prices have continued to fall exponentially since the time of writing in 2008 we can expect this gap to be closed fast. In fact, the cost of solar energy is falling much faster than that of any other energy technology to the point where it is the expected to compete with unsubsidized retail electricity prices in UK latitudes by 2014/2015 [1]. In contrast, the cost of nuclear energy has risen 5 fold since 1970 according to a recent study by Yale University’s Arnulf Grubler [2]. By supporting the solar industry now, it will soon be able to support itself without subsidy.

Digging deeper into the Government’s original modelling of overall ambition for PV, the Renewable Energy Association has found that a mid-range future fossil fuel price scenario was used which assumes a cost of $80 per barrel of oil in 2020 (which is unlikely considering current prices are frequently above $100). By using such unrealistic forecasts, the value of investment in solar energy is being systematically undervalued.

The second issue that Prof Mackay raises is with the amount of area required to get large amounts of solar energy. Whilst there is a vast amount of solar energy available to us in the UK, that energy is disperse, meaning you do indeed need to cover a considerable area in solar panels to cover our electricity needs. Prof Mackay points out that to get our current electricity (50 units of electricity per person per day) needs would require 200m2 per person. This is a huge amount of area, but it’s important to realise that reaching that target is highly plausible. The total amount of roof space per person in England is 47m2, domestic gardens 114m2, and roads and open spaces make up 60m2 and 2300m2 per person respectively [3], so by using a proportion of roof space and a small proportion of open space we could certainly get close to 200m2. Its important to point out that open space does not mean prime farmland, there are many brown field sites that could be put to good use. Nor do solar panels on open space prohibit the use of that land for other means. When placed in fields for example, solar arrays can still permit some animal grazing and in other countries, solar arrays are often positioned along motorway banks or as canopies above car parks.

Obviously getting between 100m2 and 200m2 of solar panels per person in the UK would be a gigantean undertaking and one that would change the look of our country, but this would be just one of a long line of gigantean undertakings that have taken place in our history. The expansion of organised farming, the construction of road and rail networks, and more recently the construction of electricity and mobile phone grids were all projects that have profoundly changed our country and its appearance. Just because the task may be large, does not make it impractical. In the UK we happily resurface 60m2 of road per person every 5-10 years.

Solar energy has already proven itself highly popular in the UK. It is one of the few technologies that can be produced effectively on a domestic scale giving power to families to generate their own electricity. Solar energy can also be deployed staggeringly quickly. In 2010 alone Germany installed 8GW of solar energy distributed among over 200,000 individual installations. That is equivalent to over two nuclear power stations, and there is no way those nuclear power stations could be built so quickly.

There is a misconception that micro-generation does not result in large amounts of energy, but multiplied thousands of times, the amount of energy we can harvest from small solar installations is enormous. The UK will of course need a balanced mix of different energy technologies, but lets give solar its rightful place alongside the other major forms of energy generation. As Prof Mackay points out; ‘to complete a plan that adds up, we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. Or use nuclear power. Or both.’

1. AT Kearney Report; ‘The True Value of Photovoltaics for Germany’ 2010
2. Arnulf Grubler, Yale University; ‘The costs of the French nuclear scale-up: A case of negative learning by doing’ Energy Policy, 2010
3. Department for Communities and Local Government, Land Use Statistics (Generalised Land Use Database) 2005, www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/generalisedlanduse

Dr Toby Ferenczi

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has today announced they will press ahead with their 1st August cut off date for large scale solar farms

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said, “I want to drive an ambitious roll out of new green energy technologies in homes, communities and small businesses and the FiT scheme has a vital part to play in building a more decentralised energy economy.

“We have carefully considered the evidence that has been presented as part of the consultation and this has reinforced my conviction of the need to make changes as a matter of urgency. Without action the scheme would be overwhelmed. The new tariffs will ensure a sustained growth path for the solar industry while protecting the money for householders, small businesses and communities and will also further encourage the uptake of green electricity from anaerobic digestion.”

The new tariffs (below) will go ahead from August 1, 2011 and will apply to all new market entrants.

>50 kW – ≤ 150 kW Total Installed Capacity (TIC) - 19.0p/ kWh
>150 kW – ≤ 250 kW TIC – 15.0p/ kWh
250 kW – 5 MW TIC and stand-alone installations – 8.5p/ kWh

This effectively writes off large scale solar in the U.K. For a government that is attempting to be green this is a huge step backwards.

Greg Barker has ensured that for the same cost there will be less green energy produced. Here at solar feed in tariff we believe this is a terrible move for U.K policy.

 

The early review of the UK solar feed-in tariff has caused consternation within the industry, still in its infancy and reliant on the tariff for log term viability. Chris Huhne, Secretary of the Department of Energy and Climate Change made the announcement this week that the FIT would be reviewed in light of the “threat” to the scheme posed by large scale solar projects which have begun to take advantage of the scheme. This combined with the recent spending review which will make it necessary to cut 10 per cent from the tariff rates.

The feed-in tariff was introduced as a means of attracting investment in solar energy and greatly increasing uptake in solar pv panels in the UK. The tariff works by offering guaranteed, premium rates for units of energy both consumed and fed back into the grid for small scale renewable energy producers. This tariff has been very successful at attracting investors and manufacturers alike, all keen to tap into the revenue which can be generated from the feed-in tariff. However, Huhne believes that the feed-in tariff has perhaps been too attractive with a number of large solar farms developing under the system. The DECC secretary stated,

“Since the Spending Review, I have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of large scale solar PV projects under FITs, which . . . could, if left unchecked, take a disproportionate amount of available funding or even break the cap on total funding,”

Solar Trade Association spokesman, Howard Johns lamented this news saying,

This is really bad news for the solar industry in the UK. Last week Ministers welcomed the study showing that 17,000 jobs would be created by the industry in 2011. This week has seen them once again changing the goal posts and threatening investment and jobs in the sector.”

The sun hasn’t shone much over the Christmas period however, the lead up to the Christmas period saw a refocus by the UK government on solar photovoltaic energy. Announced on the 22nd of December, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consultancy will look at microgeneration and the way the UK government can help small scale renewable energy through mechanisms such as the feed-in tariff which has already proved successful.

The feed-in tariff, introduced back in April incentivises investment in renewable microgeneration by offering fixed, premium rates for units of energy both used and fed back into the grid. Already, this mechanism has seen a huge growth in solar pv investment with traditional industries such as farming taking advantage of the profits to be made out of solar panels. Despite this government support for renewable energy, there are some fears that if the plug is pulled on the tariff too soon,

future projects and of course the future of UK renewable energy will be jeopardised indefinitely.

The consultancy which will last until March 2011 will endeavour to ensure that the longevity of UK renewable energy is secured through foresight and careful legislation. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has stated that the consultancy will focus on ‘quality, technology, skills and information’ and that ‘consumers need confidence that microgeneration kit will be of good quality. The industry needs to develop the technologies, the supply chain needs skilled workers to install kit and consumers need good information on microgeneration’.

Announcing the consultancy, Energy Minister Greg Barker said,

“We’ve already pledged financial support to encourage people to install kit like solar panels and heat pumps, today’s consultation will ensure that the industry and consumers have the confidence to invest.”

Certainly, while the financial mechanisms are in place for the time being, consumer confidence is still lacking in what is a fledgling industry not always attracting responsible business operations. Speaking on behalf of the more responsible side of solar energy operations, Dave Snowden head of the Micropower Council said,

“We have already seen extraordinary growth in microgeneration power generation solutions thanks to the introduction of the feed in tariff earlier this year, and look forward to similar incentives being extended to renewable heating and hot water systems next June. Today’s welcome proposals will help the industry grow with proper attention to quality, technology and skills development, whilst making it all much easier for consumers.”