August 9, 2013

The Pros and Cons of South West Solar Farming

Generalising some points initially raised in another conversation, what are the advantages and disadvantages of large scale solar photovoltaic installations on farms in South West England? According to the planning application submitted earlier this month by the developer of one such site the advantages are:

This solar development will have a generation capacity of approximately 5.73 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power 1790 typical homes, and save approximately 3 million kg in CO2 emissions per annum – the equivalent of removing 670 standard cars from the road each year.

The  developer doesn't mention the disadvantages of course, so I'll start that ball rolling. According to the same planning application:

The application area is 13.34ha in size being formed of two adjacent fields…. The site is classified as Agricultural Land Grade 2.

Starting with planning issues, it seems everybody one asks these days, from the NFU to the Solar Trade Association to the minister at DECC agrees this sort of thing is a bad idea, although they're not always very clear about why that is. Here's my perspective. The UK currently imports nearly 40% of the food we consume. Particularly with climate change now affecting food production both locally and globally, why should the citizens of the UK pay over the odds to turn some of the limited supply of land capable of growing their daily bread over to energy production? In fact why not save money by reducing the nation's energy consumption instead?

Moving on to technical issues, it seems some solar developers don't even understand the difference between a MW and a MWh! Do you suppose that they understand that large parts of the electricity distribution grid in South West England are already incapable of absorbing any more renewable electricity generation due to "over voltage" and/or "thermal overload" constraints?

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Comments on The Pros and Cons of South West Solar Farming »

August 31, 2013

Lettuce @ 10:42 pm

In my honest opinion I think the loss of some unproductive grade 2 land in return for electric produced without burning fossil fuels is a step in the right direction. Perhaps the objectors who want to preserve this land want to cover dartmoor instead, know one would argue the agricultural value of that land. In 20 years time there will be regrets after releasing tonnes of co2 locked in the ground through the extraction and burning of shale gas.

September 1, 2013

Jim @ 8:48 am

Hi Lettuce,

If you follow my third link above and read around a bit you'll note that the Bowhay Farm site currently produces cereals. Is that land worth preserving for that purpose?

If you check out this link instead you'll notice that, unlike solar PV, wind turbines can happily co-exist with cereals. Is wind a better idea than solar on Devon's farmland and/or moorland?

If extracting and burning shale gas is a really bad idea shouldn't UK plc be concentrating on decreasing energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency rather than energy generation?

Lettuce @ 12:52 pm

I personally do not consider cereals as an intensive crop, however in recent years the price of grain has been higher than usual due to poor harvests both in the UK and abroad. I have no idea what returns the land owner will get from a solar farm, but presume the returns are easier to predict and in the long run are better than can be achieved from cereal farming. There is nothing wrong with wind turbines, but all I can think about is the complaints people living near them are making due to the constant drone. What farmer would want that near their farm house?
I wouldn't object to wind or solar farms on Dartmoor but due to it being an elevated prominate feature visible from all over Devon, I couldn't imagine anyone would consider it, even if it is of low agricultural value it would be considered too valuable in environmental and recreational value.
I expect uk plc beleive that shale gas will somehow turn our economy around and keep the voters happy with the promise of cheap energy. On a positive note I know building regulations are becoming more and more strict on energy efficiency, and changes to the car tax encourages people to buy cars with low emissions, our car is £30 a year to tax, it still runs on fossil fuel though and still has good enough performance.


September 3, 2013

Jim @ 11:24 am

This refers once again to Bowhay Farm specifically, but I guess the argument is more generally applicable too. Under a headline reading "Solar developer: Lost land for food production is 'peanuts'" The Western Morning News reports that:

Mark Turner, operations director [of Lightsource Renewable Energy], said it was "time to start taking climate change seriously".

"There have been some concerns about the impact of solar farms on food production, but it's now been confirmed that this impact is incredibly small," he added.

"Yes, our domestic food production will likely increase over the years, but one of the biggest myths is that solar farms can't be used to cultivate food. Whilst there are a select few concerned about solar farms damaging the countryside or creating a food problem, the biggest point of all of this is being missed."

However the Western Morning News doesn't clarify what "the biggest point of all" actually is. "Taking climate change seriously" perhaps?

Jim @ 4:21 pm

Lightsource Renewable Energy's Communications Manager has now provided me with the press release the Western Morning News were working from, which concluded as follows:

Climate Change is why renewables are here. We all need to do our part to secure our own clean, affordable energy and governments have legal binding targets to be met. Thomas Edison worked this out years ago, and it’s about time we started taking climate change seriously, instead of obsessing about peanuts.

The Thomas Edison quote referred to reads:

We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

I wonder why the Western Morning News left that bit out of their report?

September 4, 2013

Jim @ 12:12 pm

A further comment from Lightsource RE, this time from their Operations Director, Mark Turner:

We sometimes encounter the question of food security when we meet with people to discuss our initial solar farm proposals. Our recently undertaken research and some very straightforward maths demonstrate that there's no material impact, less than one third of a percent of agricultural land at the absolute most. What people should be more concerned about is energy security. With coal fired power stations reaching the end of their lives and nuclear power stations taking decades to build, the UK is facing the risk of increased blackouts.

For example, Hinkley Point C is the next nuclear power station planned to be built which has been at proposal stage since 2010. There will be 2 reactors at Hinkley Point C each producing 1.8 Gigawatts of energy. During this period the solar industry has successfully commissioned over 3.5 Gigawatts of clean, renewable energy (Domestic & Commercial), almost the equivalent of both reactors together. Most importantly the land that solar farms are installed on is not harmed in any way and can easily be reverted back to its original state. This demonstrates that solar power is quick to deploy and environmentally benign when compared with other conventional methods and it reduces the demand on other fuel sources during daylight hours. The long and short is solar is the way to keep the lights on.

Jim @ 12:29 pm

To briefly respond to Mark's points, here at we are concerned about both energy security and food security.

1. If straightforward maths demonstrates that less than one third of a percent of UK agricultural land is required for solar farms then why not abide by the Solar Trade Association's own rule number 1 and "focus on non-agricultural land or land which is of lower agricultural quality"?

2. Nuclear GW are not the same as Solar PV GW. Amongst other things the "capacity factors" are very different, which has all sorts of implications.

3. Where will the power come from to "keep the lights on" outside "daylight hours" when it's -10 °C outside down here in sunny South West England?

To summarise: why should any of our "best and most versatile" agricultural land ever be sacrificed for solar PV, particularly when the energy it generates is so "out of phase" with UK demand?

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