|George Monbiot is right about a lot of things, but on rooftop solar power, I believe he is wrong.
Yes, he’s right that solar photovoltaic systems are being incentivised more than other micro-generation, but there are several good reasons for that. For a first, the unit price of an adequate rooftop solar power system is in the region of the price of a car.
Most people use finance schemes to purchase cars, with monthly charges for example.
Similar schemes are not available for solar PV, where you have to borrow the whole amount for the system up-front – or take it from a savings account if you’re lucky enough to have one.
It is the sheer size of the cost of home solar that means that people won’t do it without subsidy. The one overriding concern of people when I ask them about what green energy they could consider buying, is the size of the initial outgoings.
People seem to be prepared to spend up to around £600 to £1,200, but no more. So, most people wouldn’t even consider a heat pump (cost somewhere in the region of £3,000 to £5,000), micro co-generation (Stirling engine Combined Heat and Power unit, coming in at around £4,500) or micro-wind turbine (installation around £3,500 depending on location).
Energy bill customers would however consider insulation and draught management, and maybe even stretch to a wood-burning stove – although the supply chain for the fuel would need to be good, and some urban installations are quite costly owing to smoke regulations.
However, there is a desperate need for more indigenous power generation in Britain. This is why solar electric on peoples’ homes, and community solar power schemes, are so important.
George Monbiot and others scorn solar power because they say that the generation of power does not match the demand for power. Maximum solar generation, they say, is in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky for long periods – but this does not match the need for power in the depths of winter at night.
There are two significant reasons why George Monbiot should think again.
1. Future summer power consumption
George Monbiot, like myself, accepts the science of global warming and climate change. Disturbances in the general climatic conditions where we all live will call for strong adaptational measures.
In London, where I live, there are regular warnings about the need to increase the tree cover as weather protection in both summer and winter – in summer for shade and local cooling, and in winter for protection against flooding and excessive rainfall. Trees need open, permeable ground around them, which can soak up excess surface water; and the tree canopies themselves can protect people from downpours.
In the summer or para-summer in what was formerly Spring and Autumn, there may be weeks of excessive heat. Until now, the UK has not had extensive air conditioning in buildings, unlike the United States of America. We are in “Cool Poverty”, not “Fuel Poverty”, during a heatwave. However, summer cooling will become increasingly necessary, especially in public buildings such as schools and hospitals which have been poorly constructed through contracts made under the Private Finance Initiative. The more rooftop solar there is, the better, as when the summer highs arrive, the solar power will be there to cool us down.
2. Energy storage for winter
The natural world makes use of summer conditions to soak up as much energy as possible. Plants and trees burgeon during the warm months. We need to act like the plants and soak up energy in summer to use during winter. Electricity is not something that can be stored easily – it needs to be used to do something that can be stored easily. Something that is ready to give energy back when we need it when our other renewable energies are less powerful – when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing and the waves are not churning.
We need to use the excess generation in summer to make energy for winter. Unused summer solar power should be used to make renewable gas; easy to store, and quick to respond to demand in winter.
Solar power can make energy for winter. That is why we need more rooftop solar.