UK energy minister to call for 4 million more solar panels


U.K. energy minister Greg Barker is expected to reveal ambitious plans in the new year for the dramatic increase in solar energy throughout the country.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the minister is lining up plans to introduce as many as four million solar panels built across government land, covering an area the size of 3,400 football pitches.

Combined, this proposed solar drive is expected to add 1 GW of solar energy to the U.K.’s total capacity, all derived from solar panels fitted on to "the government estate".

These bold targets are thought to be a personal ambition of the energy minister and not yet an officially sanctioned target for the government – a stance the Telegraph believes could set Barker at odds with many senior politicians in his party, including the Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last month, Cameron was forced to defend accusations that the coalition government was eager to dispense with green subsidies in the U.K. after reports he told aides in his party to remove the "green crap" from energy bills.

Barker, however, appears to be singing from a different hymn sheet altogether, remarking in a speech in early December that “the government itself needs to become a leader in solar deployment.

"Government public buildings should be at the forefront of the move to renewable energy. So next year you can expect to hear more from me on my ambitious plans to ensure the government estate plays its part in the decentralized energy revolution."

The energy minister added: "The government is sitting on huge potential; we need to do much more."

Commenting on reports that energy minister Greg Barker will announce plans in the new year for four million solar panels to be installed on government land and property including schools, Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton told pv magazine: "Turning government land and buildings into a myriad of mini power stations is a fantastic idea and will enjoy lots of support.

"By helping schools, communities and offices to become generators of their own power, we can escape the grasp of the Big Six energy companies and beat climate change.

"But ministers can and must go further and create the right climate for investors large and small to develop the U.K.’s massive renewable power potential."

One of the largest landowners in the U.K. is the Ministry of Defence, which is understood to be in favor of solar deployment. Elsewhere, hospital and school roofs could also be prime territory for further solar panel installations, believe British solar organization, the Solar Trade Association (STA).

In a pickle

The STA calculates that one-third of Barker’s target of 22 GW of solar power by 2020 could be powered by residential rooftop installations, with solar farms and commercial sites providing an additional third each.

However, government targets would appear to suggest that only 2 GW – 4 GW of solar farm capacity will be installed by that date, with a number of Tory politicians eager to block the further development of solar farms, including communities secretary Eric Pickles, who has lobbied against the installation of a 49.9 MW solar farm in Norfolk.

Countering fears of blighted landscapes and ruined agricultural land, the STA report that even if 10 GW of solar farm capacity was installed in the U.K., this would amount to little more than 0.1% of land.

"Solar farms have an important role to play delivering green power at low cost," said the STA’s Leonie Greene. "Done well, solar farms can also actively help boost British biodiversity by providing wildlife sanctuaries. Only 5% of the land a solar farm is on is taken up with fixings, so 95% remains available for other uses.

"The solar industry is moving to make sure much of that land is used to help our threatened flora and fauna."

Equally, adds Greene, the rooftop solar potential in the U.K. is vastly untapped – across both the residential and commercial sector.

A statement from the coalition government revealed that no official agreement on the scale of solar deployment had yet been reached, but added that the coalition "would take measures to improve energy efficiency in public sector buildings."