The biggest solar farm in the UK, capable of powering 14,000 homes, has been connected to the national grid in Oxfordshire.
The 46MW Landmead solar farm, in East Hanney near Abingdon, is built on low-grade farmland used for grazing sheep, which will remain along with new wildflowers to be planted as part of efforts to improve the site’s biodiversity.
Recent Coalition minister hostility to the use of agricultural land – Liz Truss, the environment secretary, attacked solar power projects built on farmland – for renewable energy projects has caused some concern but this project has escaped the clampdown.
Toddington Harper, chief executive of Belectric, the company that co-owns Landmead with First Solar, said the changes did not mean the end of such large-scale projects.
“I think the changes to the subsidy scheme have certainly made life more difficult. Having said that, though they have changed the ROC scheme [Renewable Obligation Certificates, the subsidies being phased out], within the Contracts for Difference [the new subsidy scheme], there is still an opportunity to deliver projects like this for the UK,” he said.
Harper pointed to Decc surveys that show solar is hugely popular with the public and argued that solar farms – which have been opposed in parts of the country, in some cases by high-profile opponents such as comedian Griff Rhys Jones – had a low impact compared with other forms of energy.
“The wonderful thing about solar energy is, from a picture, it looks like a big change, but most people don’t travel around in helicopters. If you are at ground level you can’t even see the solar farm behind the hedge, because it’s 2.2m high. People driving by wouldn’t even know it’s there,” he said.
While we still persist in digging up fossil fuels, the sun still produces more than enough energy to meet the world’s energy needs. Gerhard Knies a German particle physicist was the first to estimate how much was required to meet humanity’s demand for electricity. In 1986, in direct response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he scribbled down some figures and arrived at the following remarkable conclusion: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year.
If just a fraction of this energy was captured an area of Saharan desert the size of Wales could, in theory, power the whole of Europe.
This has prompted the German Desertec which aims to provide 15% of Europe’s energy needs by 2050.
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