Utility-Scale Solar Power. In Rainy England?!
Image credit: Ecotricity
The introduction of solar feed-in tariffs in the UK caused great debate—with some claiming they were a rip off and solar was pointless in such a cloudy environment. Others clearly think differently, and Ecotricity—the renewable energy pioneers who have built stunning urban wind turbines and are supplying green gas direct to UK households—now plan on introducing utility-scale energy parks combining wind and solar. All being well, they claim they could be up and running by the end of the year, and they'll have recouped their embodied energy by year three.The news that Ecotricity is launching its own "sun parks" will certainly revive the debate around the viability of solar in the UK. The critics will no doubt argue that the economics are skewed by government policy. The company's press release doesn't explicitly say so, but my understanding is that projects like this will enjoy considerable income via the feed-in tariff. But then that's the whole point of the thing—to kick start an industry that will eventually stand on its own two feet, and will help wean the UK off fossil fuels. Ecotricity are adamant that the concept makes sense:
"Using the latest technology will enable us to harness the power of the sun, to power the homes and businesses of our customers - even on overcast and dull days.
The energy payback (the amount of time it takes to repay the energy used in creating and installing the solar panels - or Sunmills) is in the region of two years and they'll produce clean electricity for up to 25 years - that's a big net gain of clean energy."
Planning applications for the first park are underway. If nothing else, projects like this should help demonstrate one way or the other who is right when it comes to solar in cloudy climates. Watch this space.