Solar Eclipse?

Aberdeen to take on the solar system

Aberdeen City is a Johnny-come-lately to the significant savings offered by installing solar panels on its buildings and there is no excuse for this.

Every new build over the past decade should have solar panels installed as mandatory, not necessarily photovoltaic but for domestic homes and swimming pools, hot water solar.  No iffs, no buts – stick them on the roof.  A negligible cost to any builder.  Decisions by committee. What are they like!

Travelling around Germany it’s clear that solar has become de rigueur years ago.  The German government provided big incentives for fitting the panels through its 100,000 roofs programme.  Over generous it has been said and so attractive that the once high incentives are being cut back.

Installation of PV panels in the average German  home costs around 15,000 euros. Their feed-in tariff is 0.0953 per kWh, payable at an annual reduction of 5%.  The initial investment is repaid after 12 years and then the home owner is in profit.

George Monbiot the increasingly curmudgeonly voice of reactionary environmentalism has picked at wind energy, promotes nuclear and is sniffing at solar. In his Guardian article he comes out against solar photovoltaic power and feed-in tariffs.  He sees solar as a good option for Africa – it’s sunnier there – but not the UK. He considers Germany’s experience.

Net cost of installing solar PV 2000 – 2008 = 35bn euros
With other costs added in = 53bn euros in 10 years
By 2008 solar PV produced .6% Germany’s electricity
Saving one tonne carbon dioxide through solar PV cost 716 euros.
(Monbiot’s figs)

Tens of thousands of jobs have been created in Germany from solar PV. Monbiot complains these jobs are being super-subsidised because of the government’s drive into renewable and they are at the expense of other jobs – what types of jobs he doesn’t say.  Germany is now facing big competition from Far East producers of renewable equipment. The same will apply to the UK.  It’s undoubtedly true when he observes, ‘We’ve missed the boat by years’, in terms of manufacturing industries related to solar.

However, as Germany is now turning away from Monbiot’s preferred energy source, nuclear, its solar fields are producing output above 12 GW – which is higher than Japan’s entire output from its 6 reactor nuclear power plant.   Yes, PV is a costly means of producing electricity but it is just one of several renewable technologies being driven forward in Germany – which favours wind and biomass.

From a low of 6.3% electricity produced by renewable in 2000, Germany achieved 16.1% in 2009.

So what of Aberdeen’s tentative steps into solar in its community centres, schools and other properties? The plan is to have panels fitted, presumably free by a contractor in return for the contractor selling excess energy back to the grid.  Isn’t the council missing a trick here? For the relatively small costs installing solar, shouldn’t it be looking to take the pay-back from the national grid instead of handing it on a plate to a private contractor?  The anticipated saving of £100,000 over 25 years appears a particularly modest ambition.

Ah, of course, councils don’t look further ahead than the next election. It’s not the long-term state of the city that’s of interest only the seats won and lost in the council chamber.

It’s noted that Duncan Hendry, chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts sees no problem with having solar panels on the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre – ‘I’m sure they can be positioned in a way which would not create any aesthetic issues’. No, not in comparison with the conservatory stuck onto the side of HMT.

As for those who dismiss solar panels as an irrelevance in Scotland, I can only go by own experience. Over recent years I have saved a small fortune with my solar water heating panels. Last year they were my sole source of heating water from late April to September and did the job brilliantly. This year the weather has been better by far than last so far and my expectation is that I’ll be quids in again.

No-one would suggest that solar is the only answer but it has its place in a mixture of renewables which work with our climate and not against it.

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