Few would deny that solar energy is good. Good for the environment, good for the planet, and good for people’s finances. The question has been raised recently, however, as to whether it is actually good for the country. There is a fear from some quarters that solar energy will ruin good farmland, that the technology is not good financially and that the UK is not the appropriate place for it anyway, given our climate.
The case against the UK getting fully behind solar energy is not a hard one to make. After all everyone knows that England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are not the sunniest of places. Very few people come here as tourists for the warmth and sun, unless they’re coming from somewhere like Alaska. Indeed, not all environments are suitable for all sorts of renewable energy. Tidal power cannot be employed in the Sahara desert, wind turbines would be pretty useless in a cave. However, if you say that solar energy is no good for the UK, then the only way that works is as a joke.
As with all jokes, there is an element of truth in it, otherwise it wouldn’t even be any good as a joke. The UK’s weather is certainly… interesting, but it is not dire. We don’t live in darkness. Solar power works. Not as well as a coal power station, that’s for sure, not yet, but it’s in its early days and it works. If it did not then extra financial incentives would be of no use, since it wouldn’t generate any money. Having said that, there is the argument that without the financial incentives, namely the feed-in tariff from the government, solar energy would not be nearly as popular.
Actually, it is true that without the feed-in tariff, solar energy would not be as popular in this country. The evidence for that is clear: the large increase in its uptake since the government scheme was implemented. Ideally, market forces would be allowed to operate without any help or opposition, and when the technology became efficient enough and powerful enough, people would naturally want to get solar panels without any other financial incentive except the technology itself. The fear of anthropological climate change however, leading to the targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2020, has made the government step in to try to speed up the process, and it seems to be working quite nicely.
So the concern is not really that solar energy does not work, but that it works both too well and not well enough at the same time. Not well enough in that economically it is a burden on the taxpayer. Too well, in that farms may start to use their land for solar panels rather than growing food. Most people would of course see a problem with that, not least because the more food we grow locally, the less we have to import from abroad which also adds to environmental issues. Farms can easily get involved by having solar panels installed on barn roofs though, as some are, without putting any of their land out of use. As can regular people, and local government. Also, there is plenty of land which is not being used to grow crops which could be better use with PV cells instead.
So is solar energy good for farms? Certainly. Is it going to take over all farmland, and should it? Certainly not.