John Ingleby – Secretary of Grand Union Community Energy Ltd.
The Sun delivers more energy to Earth in an hour than we use in a year from fossil fuels, nuclear and all renewables combined
For the scientifically minded:
Solar energy reaching planet Earth every hour = 174 quadrillion kWh (kilowatt hours)
World annual energy demand = 0.174 quadrillion kWh ( A quadrillion has fifteen zeros.)
In other words, a thousand times more! Of course, if it’s cloudy only a tenth of the sunlight reaches Earth’s surface, and none at all in the night. But you get the idea. So if you worry about how Britain will keep the lights on without nuclear power, just remember the vast amounts of energy available every day from that great nuclear reactor in the sky.
Moreover, the sun shines everywhere! If we want a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren, this very ubiquity points to a need for widespread social developments, and not just more technology.
In any case, technology already provides well-proven ways for harvesting solar energy. On rooftops and alongside motorways we see solar photovoltaic panels generating electricity, even on cloudy days. The sun’s warmth heats solar thermal systems. Giant turbines, like Kings Langley’s M25 landmark, harness the winds that blow from the sun warming large areas of Earth’s surface.
Solar energy is called “renewable” because it doesn’t consume coal, oil or gas (known as “fossil fuels”) which are extracted from the Earth. Solar energy is also “clean”, unlike fossil fuels which emit carbon dioxide and methane gases which are driving climate change.
Technology has also given us systems for producing renewable heat energy by burning biomass, and anaerobic digestion of plant and animal waste. However these systems do produce polluting gases, so they are not so “clean”, but they are considered “renewable” because they absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide when their fuels are created. Another source of heat, geothermal energy, is both clean and available for millions of years to come.
The sun and winds are intermittent, but continuous “base energy” could be obtained from the tides in which the British Isles abound. It has been calculated that ten tidal barriers around the coast in places like Swansea Bay could produce as much base energy as three new nuclear power stations, without hazardous waste.
In a further move to overcome the intermittent nature of sun and wind, electric battery systems are becoming available (including in electric vehicles) which will store surplus solar energy and then release it when needed.
Turning to the social point of view then, “sustainability” means meeting our needs today without jeopardising the needs of future generations. Renewable energy is therefore an essential component of sustainability. (Another essential component – sustainable food supplies – will be discussed in a future Parish Magazine article).
Apart from the tides, nearly all forms of renewable energy are generated close to their point of use. This is radically different from our present energy system, which is based on a small number of very large plants supplying us with electricity and gas through the national grid.
Renewable energy therefore means local energy, and this has enormous significance for Kings Langley. It provides the means to develop our own local energy solutions, which will also contribute to the future for our children and grandchildren.
It is not widely known that the Localism Act 2011 provides the legal basis for communities like ours to plan for our own sustainable future. In other words, we have the right to plan our use of land and buildings, and develop local renewable energy and fresh food supplies. Transition in Kings (TiK) are very pleased to be working with the Parish Council Vision Project towards a Parish Plan, which we very much hope will eventually lead to a statutory Neighbourhood Plan.
Models for such plans are now well established, and over 1,600 neighbourhoods like ours have started working on their own plans, including 35 in Hertfordshire. A further aim of these plans is to develop the local economy by creating new businesses, thereby circulating more money locally. Community energy groups like Grand Union Community Energy (GUCE) are demonstrating how a local energy business can be co-operatively owned and run, while TiK’s community farm in Rectory Lane is in its second year of producing and selling local fresh food. As these schemes develop they will provide more opportunities for employment and reduce our dependence upon giant (often foreign-owned) companies.
Could it be that Brexit expresses a desire to rediscover the community spirit which older people recall from WWII and its aftermath? Perhaps we can use this “reset” in relationships to find common ground for working together to achieve changes on a similar scale.
I certainly hope so.
1. Solar FAQ’s – Sandia National Laboratories
2. Rob Hopkins – TED Talk 2009
3. The Burning Answer – a User’s Guide to the Solar Revolution
4. Friends of the Earth – A Severn Barrage or tidal lagoons?