Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Renewable energy potential

Here on Scilly we have one of the best potentials for generating power from solar, wind and wave in the entire UK. Given the relatively low population of around 2,000, a combination of good sunshine levels, high winds and powerful waves and tides indicates that we should have no trouble generating all our energy needs from renewable sources, with more to spare.

There are several issues to contend with however. Firstly, planning. This is a minor issue for solar PV or thermal, a moderate issue for wave and a huge issue for wind.

Secondly, capital cost. The only systems affordable for individuals and families are solar thermal and PV (the latter being more expensive) and even then they require several thousand pounds. That's not to say however these systems are not a good investment - they are, and will be even more so with the recent introduction of the Feed In Tariffs.

For wind turbines, efficiency and pay back periods really require moderate to large installations (tens of thousands upwards), meaning either collective community ownership or company owned ventures. Wave generation is another level of cost entirely (over £1 million), but fortunately a couple of companies are seriously interested in Scilly as a site for wave generation.

Lastly, a big obstacle remains around perception of energy security. At the moment there aren't any serious obstacles surrounding energy supply - liquid, gas or solid fuels and electricity, and all are relatively cheap. However as peak oil starts to take its grip energy costs could become very volatile, with the trend being upward price rises and reduced availability.

Only when energy security is compromised will we realise that we need every energy saving measure and renewable energy installation we can get our hands on. But at this point it will be too late to avoid some uncomfortable situations arising.

However, if it is widely recognised throughout the community that we need to plan for our future energy resources now, we could avoid compromising situations and have a very resilient, sustainable and bright future.

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