Category: United Kingdom

The UK’s Biggest Solar Farm Could Be Built Sans Government Help

Going Big

If developers Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy get their way, the U.K.’s largest solar farm will go online in 2020. The Cleve Hill solar park would cover nearly 900 acres of farmland and operate with a capacity of 350 MW, enough to provide power for 110,000 households — if it’s approved by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, that is.

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm [INFOGRAPHIC]
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“The Cleve Hill solar park is a pioneering scheme that aims to optimize the technological developments in solar energy,” Hugh Brennan, Managing Director of Hive Energy, told The Guardian.

Because the government cut solar energy subsidies back in 2016, the best way to make a farm economically viable is to increase its size, according to the developers.

Cleve Hill would be the second subsidy-free solar farm built in the country since the subsidies have stopped. However, the other farm was an expansion of a previously built farm — Cleve Hill would be the first to be completely built after subsidies.

Unprecedented Scale

Some in the area are concerned about the scale of the new installation. Migrating birds use the mudflats and salt marshes of the area to rest, and conservationists, like those from the Kent Wildlife Trust, worry about the impact the U.K.’s largest solar farm could have on these species.

Others worry about the precedent these large farms are setting. “Government policy of excluding solar from clean power auctions is driving larger projects in a bid to get the economics to work,” a spokeswoman from the Solar Trade Association told The Guardian.

U.K.'s largest solar farm
Image credit: Michael Mees/Flickr

While many are all for renewable energy, they worry that smaller, community-based solar farms will be eclipsed as the need to make these farms economically viable forces builders to go bigger and bigger with their installations.

Even so, this initiative to build the U.K.’s largest solar farm is a sign that solar power might be able to continue to flourish even without government help, and it follows a trend in the U.K. of leaning more heavily on renewables. Wales has set a target to generate 70 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2030, and Scotland has an even more ambitious goal: 100 percent zero-carbon by 2020.

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Wales Sets New Goal of 70 Percent Clean Energy Generation by 2030

Target Set

The Welsh government has set a new goal for the percentage of electricity the country gets from renewable sources: 70 percent by 2030. According to the BBC, the current figure is 32 percent. However, while the nation does have a ways to go to meet its target, its percentage is already more than twice that of the United States, which generates 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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Wales’ ambitious renewable energy goals were announced by Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths. “Wales must be able to compete in global low-carbon markets, particularly now we face a future outside the EU,” she told Assembly members on Tuesday. “The ability to meet our needs from clean energy is the foundation for a prosperous low carbon economy.”

The 70 percent renewables by 2030 wasn’t the only target set by Griffiths. She also said she wants to increase the locally owned renewable electricity capacity in the country to one gigawatt by 2030. Additionally, she plans for all new renewable energy projects to have elements of local ownership by 2020, as opposed to relying solely on foreign investment.

U.K. Going Clean

Other countries in the United Kingdom are also making significant pushes to rapidly expand renewable energy investment.

Ireland introduced legislation to divest government funds from coal and oil, a first step in moving the country away from fossil fuels. Scotland has also been embracing renewable infrastructure with efforts to increase wind, solar, and tidal energy generation. Scotland has set its own target of 100 percent clean energy by 2020.

The U.K. isn’t alone in these efforts. Countries across the globe are joining the clean energy revolution, and in the U.S., individual cities and states have taken a stand where the federal government has not.

The battle against climate change can only be won through worldwide cooperation and commitment. The efforts underway in the U.K. and elsewhere are an excellent start, but until fossil fuels are no longer used, any progress has the potential to be erased.

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Solar Energy Smashes U.K. Record, Supplying 24% of the Nation’s Electricity Demand

Here Comes the Sun

The Beatles may have well predicted the future for their mother country as the Sun now shines bright in the United Kingdom. According to the National Grid, almost 25 percent of Great Britain’s electricity demand was served by solar at midday Friday. The clean energy source generated 8.7 gigawatts, which is more than the previous record set on May 10, when solar generated 8.48 gigawatts.

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“We now have significant volumes of renewable energy on the system, and as this trend continues, our ability to forecast these patterns is becoming more and more important,” Duncan Burt, who oversees the National Grid’s control room operations, told the Independent.

“This is a colossal achievement … and sends a very positive message to the U.K. that solar has a strong place in the decarbonization of the U.K. energy sector,” Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, pointed out.

As Barwell noted, this marks the first time solar panels generated more electricity in the U.K. than nuclear plants. Natural gas and coal remain the country’s top suppliers of electricity, however.

Stacking up on Renewables

This milestone is obviously a win for renewables and a sign that nations are moving toward cleaner energy sources.

Top 10 Countries Using Solar Power
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Solar power remains the top bet among many, including the United States, where solar panels accounted for 60 percent of California’s record-breaking clean energy usage in March. Expect trends similar to these to continue in the coming months, as several other places pledge to switch to renewables sooner than later.

The steady rise of solar energy is made possible in part by the decrease in the cost of solar panels. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt that the solar industry is also providing jobs in places desperate for them, such as the U.S. As Hannah Martin, head of energy for Greenpeace UK, told the Independent, “All around the world, solar power keeps beating new records as costs come down and power generation goes up. In the U.S., more people were employed in generating electricity from solar last year than from coal, oil, and gas combined.”

In fact, the total number of Americans working in solar is higher than the number employed by Google, Facebook, and Apple combined. Cleary, the Sun isn’t just shining in the U.K.

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Britain Goes 24 Hours Without Coal-Generated Power for the First Time in 135 Years

Going Coal-Free

Although Britain has historically run on coal-generated power, the country just went without any for a full 24 hours. This is a first for the area — and it will be the first of many such days to come.

The National Grid confirmed that April 21 was the first full day of coal-free power in 135 years, following a relatively long stretch of 19 hours in May 2016. This is not due to any one alternative power source, but to an increasingly varied range of power options.

Robin Lucas [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Robin Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

Gridwatch observers estimate that about half of the energy used that day came from natural gas, while the rest of the power burden was shared by nuclear, imported, and renewable energy sources. In fact, half of the power in the U.K. on a day-to-day basis now comes from renewables and nuclear.

In other words, Britain didn’t go green for 24 hours, but it made a definitive step away from coal dependence. The U.K plans to close its remaining coal power plants by 2025 at the latest, which will mean longer and longer coal-free periods of time as we approach that deadline.

Renewables Powering Nations

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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The U.K. is far from the only country leading the way when it comes to renewables. According to Costa Rica’s National Centre for Energy Control, the last time fossil fuels were used in the country’s grid at all was June 2016, and before that, more than 98 percent of the nation’s energy came from green sources. Iceland runs on 100 percent renewable sources, 75 percent large hydro and 25 percent geothermal. Sweden is also 100 percent fossil-fuel free.

Other countries are coming close to 100 percent independence, too, and with so many ways to achieve freedom from fossil fuels, each country has to find the method that works best for it. As CleanTechnica points out, only two trends are shared by the countries leading in renewables: leaders who set, support, and invest in ambitious goals for renewable energy generation, and the recognition that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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