In 2015 year the UK government decided to remove all subsidies from our emerging solar energy industry. This cast a cloud across the face of renewable energy. The global progress of solar is unstoppable, backed by smart money and even smarter technology. David Saunders from Bristol Power Co-op is one of Bristol’s key exponents of solar and it’s potential to create incredibly low cost energy not just for domestic use but to massively reduce the energy cost of industry. David is a self-confessed geek with a natural story teller’s ability to bring facts to life.
“What is most popular page on Bristol City Council’s website?” David asks.
It’s the solar map. It shows you how much solar you can generate on your roof, but it doesn’t actually tell you where you can find the best local installer.”
“Guess who is doing an improvement on it … Google’s Project Sunroof where they are going to map all the world roof space. Why are they doing it? Because they can! And every time someone looks at their roof on the map there will be ads for local installers.
So how long do you think it will be before you can have solar energy on everybody’s roof, he asks. It’s like mobile phones, a genuine revolution!”
“Only a quarter of the UK solar energy is on the roofs at the moment. The rest comes from fields solar farms. A few years ago Wikipedia said we might get half our energy from solar by 2050.
Just two years ago Wiki said solar is growing exponentially. Now if you go to their page on photo voltaic they’ve got a graph which is a straight line. By 2024 you will have 100 times as much solar. At the moment we have 1%. So that’s 100% solar and the estimates keep bringing this date closer. “
David turns to what is happening globally to underline this incredible growth.
“When the President of China went to America in 2014 they discussed the fact that the developed nations are not setting the targets for cutting their emissions aggressively enough. China was opening a coal-fired power station every week. China promised to cut their emissions by 2030. They cut their emissions in just one year! How?
China did three things.
They had a bit of a slowdown in the economy. They started buying natural gas from Russia – a financial decision that had an environmental payoff. Two years before, China built massive solar panel factories, almost overnight. Panel manufacturers went broke around the world because they couldn’t match the Chinese prices. The Americans and Europeans imposed a trade embargo on the Chinese panels. So the Chinese Government, in their wisdom said, we are not going to stop producing, and we will install all our own panels!”
A solar panel is actually a piece of double glazing with silicon crystal wafers in it. There’s now a kind of panel printed on thin film, high-tech stuff. In the UK it’s currently IKEA who have a special deal with the manufacturer. This cheaper technology and the panels are much smaller. So you can get cheapish solar panels at IKEA.
Now an American company called Sun Edison has figured out how to use a 10th of the energy, which itself can be solar energy, to produce very cheap panels indeed. They have invested a massive $4 billion in a factory in China. Once they’ve got their investment back solar prices will drop dramatically. In the future it will be cheaper to install solar than pay for fossil fuels.
David is confident that solar has a very bright future. “It’s a certainty that smart businesses will offer free solar installation and lower energy bills to consumers in the next two years” he predicts. Is this solar pie in the sky thinking? “It’s already happening in the USA, it’s only a matter of time before it happens here”, he concludes.