Pickles in a pickle over “renewable” energy

  •  Appeal for 24MW solar farm granted.
  • Secretary of State ill-advised.
  • Energy security is better excuse.

By Bill Butterworth

13 March 15


PV Devizes

National energy security is hidden in this picture. Solar panels may or may not be sustainable but we do need our own power supply.

It is not just a pity that government is sometimes dishonest and ignorant, it is an affront to democracy. An appeal for a 24MW solar farm on a former World War II airfield site in Suffolk has been approved by communities secretary Eric Pickles, who originally refused the scheme in 2013. Pickles, who had his initial decision quashed by a High Court ruling, has now said that the development would provide a “considerable amount” of clean, renewable and sustainable energy. He added that the scheme would make a “valuable contribution” to cutting greenhouse gas emission and help tackle climate change.

Why is that dishonest and ignorant? Well, solar farms might help reduce the production of Carbon dioxide and hence “make a valuable contribution” at a local, installed, level but it is unlikely if looking at the whole of the supply chain. The independent research on energy input and return on the manufacture, packaging, transport, erection, commissioning, maintenance and decommissioning of solar panels really does suggest that we will probably not get back what we have put in so far in energy terms and, it must be remembered, the energy in is quite likely to have been produced by burning brown coal. So, sorry Eric, either you or your advisors are likely to be ignorant, dishonest or both.

There are, however, positives about solar power. Like all new technologies it needs time and in the short run may well be a step back. So, firstly, it is getting better in efficiency terms and will almost certainly continue to do so. Secondly, there is a very good reason to generate here in the UK by whatever means and that is that we need energy security. With a rising tide of population, we need more energy and security of supply seems prudent in a world where trust is not dependable. Thirdly, the advent and launch of the solar-power plane, Solar Impulse, shows that large scale storage of solar and other energies is now a real possibility. When that is possible and economic, it will revolutionise the distribution of electricity.

The dilemma of more people and more power not only remains, it is getting more pressing and we react with ostrich-like abandon.