Government To Push For Solar Power Plants
By Cynthia Taylor
The UK government has plans for an enormous expansion of solar farm right across Britain despite warnings that the electricity system will not be able to cope with this power increase.
With the current system the developers who build solar farms are getting up to £85 for every MWh of energy they generated these costs are added to household bills.
Energy and Climate change minister, Greg Barker, has said that he has an ambition for the generation of 20GW of energy that is to be produced by solar panels by the year 2020. This is effectively a 10-fold increase of the number of currently being build or being planned solar farms.
The volume of solar power would mean that there will be solar panels that reach up to 10-feet tall and will cover an area of land that is the equivalent of over 100 of the size of the London Olympic Park.
The ministers have received warning that this type of steep increase in power, could cause an overload of the electricity system in Britain.
The warning has come from the National Grid, who is responsible for electricity transmission, has warned Mr. Barker’s department, last year that the building of more than 10GW of solar panels, would create a situation where the control of the grid, would significantly be more challenging than it is already.
This warning indicates that the solar farms, just like the wind farms,will have to be paid for not producing any energy at times.
In a speech, delivered to foreign ministers, last week, Mr. Barker stated that his has an “ambition” for the production of 20GWof solar energy 2020. This figure has been used previously as a theoretical upper-limit by DECC.
In an industry conference held in Munich, Intersolar, Mr. Barker said that he was determined to ensure that Britain was the hub for global solar companies, and he said that no other country across Europe had more potential for the deployment of solar energy in the future.
The ambition for expansion is a result of generous subsidies are being offered by the government to solar developers through the Renewables Obligation Scheme, and consumers will ultimately have to pay for it through their energy bills.
These financial incentives have created fears that the building of the solar farms will be of a similar scale to wind farms that also benefit from subsidies, from the government. Many critics say that these developments are being placed irresponsibly in areas of scenic beauty all over Britain’s countryside despite local opposition from people all over the country.
The Renewable Obligation Certificate payments, (ROC), are proportionate to how much energy is produced, and are in addition to the amount of moneythe solar farm owners will make from the electricity that is sold.
The disclosure of plans by government for an expansion this size for solar energy, brings up the possibility, that solar farms will receive payment for shutting down when energy production is high.
Currently electricity is not stored, and during warmer days, when production is not being used, at normal rate, the National Grid will pay the power stations to reduce their energy production as the grid can’t cope with the capacity.
With the current balancing mechanism, the wind farms that have been built with separate targets, have already received millions of pounds for not producing electricity.
The National Grid indicated in their note last year, that was sent to the DECC, that any increase of solar power that is beyond 10GW would place a burden on the grid, and would therefore need reduction, to the amount of energy, that flows through the grid during the summer months. They also pushed the point that a figure mentioned of 22GW, would place the grid in an unacceptable situation.
The DECC produced a document in December that estimated that about 11.2GW of solar panels would be built by the year 2017, and that it was conceded that according to the National Grid, these figure could be the cause of generator scheduling, inflexibility and curtailment problems which could occur during the summer months.
The fact that the National Grid has brought up concerns with regard to the high figures, follows increased criticism of the financial incentives for the on-shore renewable energy schemes, while campaigners fight against the plans for the dozens of new solar farms all over Britain.
A study done of the government’s database, which was conducted by the Renewable Energy foundation, a charity publishing data in the UK of the energy sector, has revealed that developers could be in line to receive about £124 million annually in consumer subsidies, should all the current solar farm proposals be given the go ahead.
he DECC’s database of Renewable Energy Statistics, there are already 604 solar farms that have either already been approved, or are currently in the planning system. 359 of them are bigger than 1MW and are likely to be ground mounted solar farms, rather than the small sets of panels that are placed on buildings roofs.
146 of the larger projects are already in place and 133 or waiting construction or are presently being built. There are 83 that have been proposed by the developers.
The current project in the database account for 1/10th of the 20GW capacity proposed by Mr. Barker.
The DECC has said that they didn’t have figures for the amount, of the 20GW, that would be provided by roof panels, and how many will be in the form of larger projects. The Renewable Energy Foundation stated that it was most likely that a large majority of them would come from the ground mounted projects, which is likely to need about 75,000 acres of land.
The Director of REF, Dr. John Constable, said that he knew that the subsidies and the targets ‘over heated the wind sector’, the led to irresponsible behavior and provoked resistance. He continued that judging from Mr. Barker’s ambitions and the planning data; it looks like the solar PV industry is heading the same way. He expresses sadness about this, as he felt that at the right scale, solar might fit nicely in a rural environment.
Dr. Constable continued that the National Grid’s comments on the difficulties to managing the large solar fleets were significant, and that they threaten costs to the consumers of the UK, which is over and above the subsidies. He asks: Does the DECC care about the electricity costs for the future? And he stated that it appeared not.
Residents in Cornwall are considering a High Court challenge for blocking plans of a 15,720 panel farm that will stretch over 36 acres of land that is farmed in Egloshayle.
The project has been proposed by SunPower Corporation, who is a US company; they were given final approved by the council for Cornwall earlier this year.
Andrew Hawkey, the landowner said that the project would help to reduce his carbon footprint and will also benefit the whole of Cornwall. He further said that the alternative would be intensive agricultural schemes.
Local resident, Antona Willis, 52, had opposed this scheme, and she described the process as ‘undemocratic’. She noted that this would be the 3rd solar farm that will be visible from her property. She continued that looking at these changes was like looking at a large industrial landscape. She said that when the sun shines on the panels with the glint and glare it looks spectacular, however, when there is no sun and you look across the fields it looks like a grey depressing crop.
A planning application at the beginning of the month for a solar farm in Tattingstone, Suffolk, for a £20 million farm on 94 acres. Was turned down after a campaign by opponents which included Griff Rhys Jones, an actor and comedian, who resides nearby.
Hive Energy, the project developers said they would help meet the government’s targets with regards to renewable energy and the panels would be ‘fully screened’ out of sight from the village residents visibility.
Hive Energy, has been a prolific developer of solar in Britain, in the past year, they have had 11 schemes approved in counties such as Essex, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wilshire, Somerset, Northamptonshire, Devon and Somerset.
Gilles Redpath a telecoms millionaire and the Company’s chief Executive urged ministers in November to be cautious with regard to the reduction of the value of the ROC.
Mr. Barker said that the 20GW was not a target, but an ambition that was of long standing. He mentioned that solar was a popular form or energy, with costs that have been ‘driven down’.
One of the good things about solar is it is able to reach places that the grid is unable to reach, and this reduces the strain on the grid.
Mr. Barker also mentioned that the UK has some way to go, before the limitations set by that National Grid, have been reached for solar.
At the same time Minister Barker said that they were working together with the industry and the Grid, to find ways to update the infrastructure, which he said had received very little investment under previous administrations, to be able to meet the challenges for a 20GW solar world.
The government is prepared to introduce guidelines for the prevention of inappropriate developments on land that is marked as greenfield land.
A National Grid Spokeswoman said they would be working at responding to the changing generation mix.
She continued that they were actively working with the government, industry and Ofgem, the regulator, to ensure that the country develops an electricity system that will meet the decarbonisation objectives for the country and to deliver supply security at the lowest costs overall.
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