Cloudy Outlook for Solar Energy in Britain

The Economist argues that heavy reliance on solar power as an alternative energy source will not help Britain meet its greenhouse-gas reduction targets in 2050 due to operational and financial infeasibilities.
July 5, 2011, 5am PDT | Jeff Jamawat
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On the former point, Britain is a nation that experiences inclement weather year round, which prevents British households from getting adequate sunlight, except during ephemeral summer months.

"[S]olar energy can never play a central role in such a grey country. In Britain, consumption is lowest when the sun shines. And since the technology does not yet exist to store the electricity generated, conventional power plants are still needed during high demand. [B]y 2020 all small-scale generation will only amount to less than 2% of current electricity output."

According to the article, an argument against solar power in the UK can also be made strictly from a policy standpoint.

That the investment of $20,000 per household takes as long as 25 years to generate a 10% return makes solar subsidies "regressive" because "poor people spend a larger share of their income on fuel than the rich. The perks, meanwhile, go to those with panels-often wealthier homeowners." To that end, policymakers should curtail subsidies for solar panels and siphon that money to other renewable energy outlets that produce better results.

With 1990 as the baseline year, Britain sets its GHG reduction target at 80% by 2050.

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Published on Thursday, June 30, 2011 in The Economist
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