Three leading scientists have called for for a moratorium on the building of new conventional power plants following research indicating that renewables could be implemented much faster than the majority of people realise.

In a letter to the respected science journal Nature, the three scientists– Keith Barnham, of the Physics Department at Imperial College London, Kaspar Knorr, of the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology in Kassel, Germany and Massimo Mazzer of the CNR-IMEM, Parma, Italy – disagree with the UK Government’s current assessment of solar’s potential contribution to the grid. The scientists believe that the UK could move to an all-renewables energy infrastructure, and that the solar component of a renewables-powered grid could be in place as soon as 2020, if the UK follow the same rate of adoption as Germany.       

The scientists dismiss criticisms made in a Nature article that solar photovoltaic-generated electricity is not commercially competitive, pointing to supporting evidence that the installed PV capacity in Germany is actually reducing peak power prices. Writing in Nature, the scientists say: “Data from the Kombikraftwerk project shows that PV supply in Germany peaks within an hour or so of the peak daytime demand on the majority of days, summer and winter.”

They continue: “The Kombikraftwerk project has shown that an all-renewable electricity supply is possible with existing technology. Throughout 2006 the project matched 1/10,000 of the real-time demand on the German grid to the real-time output of PV and wind generators, which together supplied 78% of the power. Biogas generators provided the back-up capacity (17%). Only small, pumped-water storage capacity (5%) was necessary.”

Jeremy Leggett, Chairman of Solarcentury, welcomed the scientists' letter, stating: “The calculations by this elite international scientific trio show that the Chancellor's vision of Britain as a 'gas hub' is a dangerous and divisive illusion, and one that risks increasing electricity prices rather than reducing them.

“Prof Barnham and his colleagues essentially point to a Third Industrial Revolution that can not only stop the world from tipping into ruinous climate change, but brake our slide into austerity-driven social collapse by providing the job-rich fuel for the rebuilding of Britain's economy.”

Solarcentury’s CEO, Frans van den Heuvel, added: “It is interesting that the paper places so much emphasis on mixed renewables without storage. That is fine, but at Solarcentury we believe the future is even brighter. Smart grid innovation, plus new smart storage technologies, could potentially make the Third Industrial Revolution move even faster than Barnham et al say, and Solarcentury for one has a strategy factoring based in part on this aspiration. We hope to be a British flag carrier in the front rank of this revolution, generating jobs aplenty. Sadly, for obvious reasons not everyone at the British Treasury supports our thinking.”