Fields Paved with Gold
Solar panels could be the latest get rich quick scheme for landowners. Or they could leave many investors out of pocket. Tom Heap asks if this solar gold rush is sustainable.
Birmingham City Council is already fitting solar to 10,000 homes and farmers with more than 35 acres had hoped to earn as much as £50,000 a year harvesting solar energy. But, the government now seems to be backtracking on its promise of large subsidies. Spain's solar industry recently crumbled due to the false economics of government funding and they have a lot more sunshine than the UK. Germany too, which has the world's largest market for solar, has recently had to dramatically decrease promised feed in tariffs in order to prevent an unsustainable bubble.
Detractors of solar argue that even if we covered the country in panels we would only produce the energy of a handful of power plants. Nevertheless the limited FIT offer is heralding a 'goldrush' in parts of the South West who hope to revive the local economy. Once the offer ends the industry must be able to sustain itself but in the UK is the latest renewable hot ticket worth the gamble? Even in sunny Cornwall five figure planning application fees have put off many investors and new uncertainty over feed in tariffs has stalled planned projects.
There are those who believe covering the roofs of some of our most loved National Trust Institutions like Dunster Castle with panels will be an expensive mistake. Others believe that any government or public body influence will only falsely inflate and then ultimately suppress the real value of solar.
As ever the industry relies on growing take up making technology cheaper and increased funding for research increasing efficiency even in Britain's darkest parts.
Low cost organic solar cells being developed at Cambridge University could be the answer but can we afford to wait for them to come online.