David Cameron’s agreement to end fossil fuel usage by the year 2100 is an admirable and long-awaited goal. Installing solar panels on public properties could be key to its success.
Think ‘rooftop solar panels’ and the first image that springs to mind is probably a residential home. Solar panels have been popular amongst homeowners since 2010 due to an average annual return on investment of 10%, providing residents with a healthy income for the next twenty-five years. Commercial solar panels have also taken off – powering business operations and impressing customers in Essex and across the UK
But the recent success of government and local council projects suggests that we have been missing out by overlooking the possibility of solar panels on public buildings.
How did Newcastle Council reduce carbon emissions by 22% since 2005?
Three years ago, North Tyneside Council partnered with E.On to install 1,500 PV solar panels on buildings in Newcastle. The scheme was a huge success, reducing C02 emissions in the area by a tonne. Private companies such as E.On are happy to take on the upfront cost because they make their money back by selling excess electricity to the grid, while locals enjoy lower energy bills to the tune of £150 each year.
In light of this success, North Tyneside Council is pressing ahead with a new solar panel scheme. Councillor John Stirling described the situation as “win-win… great for the environment, and great for our residents benefiting from free energy.”
Have solar panels on public properties been a success elsewhere?
London Mayor Boris Johnson has been criticised for failing to get the ball rolling on solar panels for schools in London, despite the fact that most of the capital’s 3,000 schools could accommodate at least a 25 kWp system. Money saved on a school’s energy bills has the potential to do exceptional good – because it frees up funding for teachers, books and computers.
While the charity 10:10 has been doing excellent work with its crowd-funded ‘solar schools’ project, the majority of suitable schools are still not making the most of their roof space.
Boris Johnson has since attempted to fix this issue by confirming that funding will be set aside for solar PV on public buildings in London, including schools, though commentators are less than impressed by his track record on the issue.
What’s next for solar panels on public properties?
It seems likely that we will see a lot more currently unproductive land put to use generating electricity – and profit – for the government.
Indeed, the government has announced plans to install 1GW of solar power on government land. The first project, recently completed at a Ministry of Defence (MOD) training facility, will produce 40 MW of electricity at the site. Half of the energy will power the indoor training facilities, while the other half will be exported back into the national grid to generate revenue for the MOD.
The site, which cannot be sold to a private company nor be put to agricultural use due to poor soil quality, is an excellent example of another win-win situation for solar panels on public land.