Opinion: The solar industry should learn the lessons of the onshore wind industry

A solar farm in the UK.
By Anders Lorenzen

As other countries race ahead with the development of onshore wind, the UK is lagging behind with this sector despite the fact it has the potential to be its cheapest renewable energy source. The reason is the large opposition to onshore wind turbines in the UK, spearheaded by ‘nimbys’ and anti wind turbine groups who argue that they spoil countryside vistas and kill birds.

Would the neighsayers feel the same way if they were to receive a slice of the profit in the form of shares in their local turbines? In countries where this happens, such as Denmark and Germany, the approval ratings are much higher. In fact in Germany over 50% of renewable energy projects are community owned. UK developers would do well to follow a similar formula.

As a result of the anti onshore wind turbine movement in the UK, led by prominent Conservative MP’s and even Government ministers, the UK government’s renewable energy strategy has steered away from onshore wind towards offshore wind and solar power. Solar power in the UK currently enjoys the highest public approval rating amongst any renewable energy technology, currently measured at 85%. But this could be about to change; a rush to build solar farms on picturesque and / or agricultural land has reinvigourated the neighsayers.

There is no doubt that when the wind turbine revolution started in the UK in the early 1990’s (the first wind farm was established in 1991), mistakes were made when many were erected on sensitive areas of natural beauty. This did the industry no favors. Its crucial that solar developers avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and fight to keep the solar approval rating as high as it already is; the importance of this cannot be underestimated. We’d do well to take the opportunity to place solar installations out of sight of sensitive countryside vistas and place more on existing urban infrastructure, such as residential and commercial roofs, transport hubs, etc. The recently constructed Blackfriars Solar Bridge in London is a perfect example of how solar power can elegantly deployed on top of existing or new developments in a win win scenario for urban planners and the traveling public. The potential for similar schemes is huge. Developers must seize the day and ensure they get their planning right this time, we cannot afford another battle.

Sub edited by Kirstie Wielandt

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