Building solar farms could cut bills and replace Russian gas faster than other energy sources, industry says | world news

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Solar power could cut bills and replace the need for Russian gas much faster than other energy sources, the industry told Sky News.

But a new wave of vast solar farms is sparking opposition from rural communities who fear “the industrialization of the countryside”.

Solar Energy UK said there were 7GW of ‘off-the-shelf’ solar installations that had planning permission and permission to connect to the power grid.

That’s far more energy than even the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor, which won’t be completed until at least 2026, a decade after it was given the green light.

Cam Witten, head of policy at Solar Energy UK, said: “Hinkley Point is around 2.5 GW, if I remember correctly.

“We have about 7 GW of solar that we can get built and start exporting to the grid over the next two years. That’s a very quick turnaround for almost three times the reward.”

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The UK has 14 GW of installed solar capacity, up from around 1.5 GW a decade ago.

Its rapid growth was driven by falling costs – down 85% over the same period.

New solar farms are producing electricity for less than £50 per 1 megawatt hour (MWh), enough to power 2,000 homes for an hour.

The agreed price for electricity from the Hinkley reactor was £92 per MWh, rising with inflation.

And the cost of gas in recent weeks has been around £225 per MWh.

Economies of scale increase the size of proposed new solar farms.

Currently the largest is the Shotwick Solar Park in North Wales, which has a capacity of 72 MW.

But Sunnica is seeking permission to build a 500MW ‘energy farm’ in east Cambridgeshire and west Suffolk.

It would have more than a million panels, as well as battery storage, in an area equivalent to 2,500 football fields.

Nick Wright is part of the Say No to Sunnica campaign group and is a local farmer.

Picture:
Nick Wright is part of the ‘Say No to Sunnica’ campaign group and is a local farmer

He says it is fertile soil which is good for a range of food crops.

“A program of this scale is an industrialization of the countryside,” he said.

“We also need food security and this is not the place for solar power. .

“Premium soil should not be used for solar energy.”

The large-scale solar power expansion has faced opposition from some Tory MPs, including Matt Hancock, the former health secretary.

Similar opposition to onshore wind has left it in the doldrums.

And the government’s recent energy strategy has moved away from an explicit goal for solar power.

Instead, there is an ambition to increase capacity “up to” five times by 2035, with a commitment to consult on changes to planning rules to accelerate deployment.

The strategy includes much more comprehensive plans for eight new nuclear reactors and 50 GW of offshore wind.

Oxford PV will soon start producing panels containing a mineral called perovskite
Picture:
Oxford PV will soon start producing panels containing a mineral called perovskite

But emerging technology could allow solar panels to harness the same amount of solar power in a smaller area.

Oxford PV will soon start producing panels containing a mineral called perovskite.

The first generation is 20% more efficient than current silicone-based panels.

But the Oxford University spin-off is confident it can take that figure to 100%.

This could make small installations on the roofs of schools, factories and office buildings very profitable.

Laura Miranda, the company’s head of materials research, said the discovery was a game-changer.

“This is the biggest breakthrough in solar technology for decades,” she told Sky News.

“We know there are concerns about land use.

“Having more energy and more power coming from the same area means we can reduce the areas where we put these panels for the same output.”

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