Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why so much solar PV and so little wind?

I am planning a post on the financial and carbon paybacks on LED lighting - but it is not ready yet, sorry. In the meantime, on Tuesday evening I went to the last public meeting regarding the Cambridgeshire Renewables Infrastructure Framework (CRIF). A team from Cambridgeshire Horizons is putting together a plan as to how Cambridgeshire can meet targets for renewable energy generation, which are needed to reduce carbon emissions from the region.

It was an interesting evening. You can view the slideset here.

There are some very interesting challenges ahead, as to how to unlock investment potential in this area. What I am particularly worried about to start with, is the expectation in investment in PV compared to wind power. They have prepared a number of scenarios, based on different financial conditions and incentives, but in all of them the expectation is that investment in solar PV will be overall at least twice that in wind power, and yet the energy yield from wind is six or seven times as great. In the most ambitious scenario, they are looking at £3.8 billion investment in PV compared to £1.4 billion in wind power, yielding around 2600 GWh/year of wind power and around 600 GWh/year in PV. (From  slides 9 and 11 from the presentation.) That means the energy from solar PV is costing more than 11 times as much in investment per unit output than the PV. If it costs so much why are we being encouraged to invest in it at all?

To some extent, a mix  of renewable energy sources is a good thing because it evens out supply. For example wind power is greatest in winter whereas solar power peaks in summer. However, solar PV is much more seasonal than wind so would need a great deal more storage or backup than wind power to allow for the lean months.

From the graphs that CRIF have prepared, we will struggle to meet renewable energy targets without a very substantial investment in wind, and yet it seems that wind power remains very unpopular in the region. As of April 2009 the latest data in the British Wind Energy Association's report on regional progress towards wind energy targets, the East of England was almost the worst region in the UK  for the proportion of wind farm plans approved. What does it take for the planners (and the objectors) to realise how much their rejection of this technology is costing us?

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