WMN opinion: West leads the way with 'acceptable' renewables
Despite all the negativity surrounding large scale industrial renewable energy projects, there is much about the technology to be celebrated. Perhaps one of the most significant is the power it has given to individuals to produce energy for themselves.
And it is an opportunity that has been grasped with both hands by people in the Westcountry who have made Devon and Cornwall into the solar panel capitals of Britain. Many of these photo voltaic panels are on rooftops, some in gardens or sheds. Devon tops the list with 17,564 installations on people's homes, generating almost 62,000kw of electricity. Cornwall is second with more than 9,500 schemes generating 35,572kw.
These are, don't forget, domestic projects. They represent a not inconsiderable investment by the householder who has taken the initiative partly to offset his own energy costs and, in some cases, to do his or her bit for the environment. And even though the feed-in tariff – the cash people receive for selling excess electricity back to the grid – has dropped recently, rates of return are still quite good. If individuals can afford the outlay, between £6,000 and £7,000, their savings might amount to around £900 a year, meaning that inside a decade they will have got back their investment.
The fact that the feed-in tariff has fallen is no bad thing. It is that figure, after all, which accounts for some of the increases in energy charges that the vast majority of us are having to meet. But while those payments have fallen, so has the cost of putting a few solar panels on the roof. The 'market' in this case, seems to be working.
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There will be exceptions of course, but in the main we suspect most people prefer to see solar panels on the roofs in built-up areas rather than in huge plastic slabs despoiling the countryside and rendering valuable and vital farmland virtually unusable. In the same way, most can accept the small-scale turbines farmers sometimes erect to power the farm while despising the giant wind farms that can destroy a landscape.
The next phase of the solar revolution might be to extend the use of PV on rooftops, including supermarkets, warehouses, industrial buildings and public buildings, instead of swallowing up more green acres. That way support for the technology might grow and the benefits of renewables might – just – begin to outweigh its drawbacks.