Image credit: Ecotricity
When I wrote about Toyota's 4.1MW ground mounted solar array in the UK, some commenters questioned whether the use of so much land was a sustainable way to generate power. It's a question that might also be asked now that Ecotricity's first combined wind- and solar-powered Sun Park is up and operational. But the developers already appear to have put some serious thought to this—using the land to nurture bees and other pollinators, as well as produce energy. Given the sheer size of this 1MW array, located next to an existing installation of 16 wind turbines—which are intended to work in conjunction with the solar to provide a more even power supply to the grid—it makes sense to question whether the land could be put to better use. But, according to the developers, the site of the new Sun Park is marginal land that is not particularly productive without the use of fertilizers. In an effort to further improve the environmental benefits of the initiative, Ecotricity are working with the Bee Guardian Foundation and other conservation groups, planting a native wildflower mix this autumn to encourage pollinators.
"Britain's First" Press Releases Coming Thick and Fast
Much like the old tin mine turned solar power plant I posted on last week, Ecotricity also claim this particular development as the UK's first solar power plant. Whatever the truth about who got there first hardly seems to matter—it's evident that we need more and more ambitious clean energy projects the world over if we're going to dig ourselves out of the energy mess we find ourselves in. If developers work themselves into a competitive solar arms race over the first, biggest, or best—then that's OK with me.
Recent Rush of Large-Scale Solar On Indefinite Hold
But here too, we find a problem—these "firsts" may soon become "lasts". With a Government review withdrawing support for large-scale solar, Ecotricity are also planning to put future developments on hold. Founder Dale Vince argues forcefully that not investing in solar now could cost the country, and consumers, dearly in the not-too-distant future:
The government's big issue with Big Solar appears to be its apparent success, the sheer amount of it that might get built - and the cost. They've capped the amount that can be spent, under Feed in Tariffs, at £360M per year (come 2014), making this the only FIT scheme in the world with a cap in the process.
And it's this cap that then caused their big problem (they say) - the possibility that Big Solar could be successful at the expense of other technologies, funding wise - because funding is suddenly limited. OK that's the background.
The £360M a year equates to roughly £5 per household per year - not a fortune - roughly 1% of a typical electricity bill.
In contrast - Each time the cost of oil doubles, as it has in the last few years and will do again (and again), electricity bills rise by something like 30% - or £150 a year. Money that goes to energy market traders and speculators.
There are, of course, those that claim that solar power is unsuited and expensive for Britain's rainy, cloudy climate, and that government should focus on wind and nuclear power to cut carbon. But Ecotricity and others remain undeterred. Paul Sergeant, a spokesperson for Ecotricity, told me that it is at least as much about pushing solar technology to a tipping point in terms of cost and competitiveness:
The sun provides most, if not all of the energy on our lonely rock - it would be silly not to be working on ways to capture more of that energy for less outlay. Rather than trying to create a sun on earth (nuclear) why not learn to make the most of the one we already have in the sky?
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