Industry frustration at DECC’s nuclear versus solar land use claims

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been criticised for releasing an infographic demonstrating how much more land would be required for solar power to match the output of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

The government was announcing details of the deal with French energy giant EDF. The plant, scheduled to be online by 2023 will have a capacity of 3.2GW. DECC released an infographic showing how much land would have to be given over to solar farms and onshore wind in order to match Hinkley’s output.

“We feel the comparison of land usage for different forms of energy generation is unhelpful and misleading,” Mark Turner, operations director, Lightsource Renewable Energy told Solar Power Portal.

“We simply have to move away from the argument that land is either used for farming or for renewable power generation. PV solar power co-exists with both productive farming and the creation of wildlife habitats."

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey stressed that the department was committed to a diverse mix of energy, a point reiterated by a DECC spokeswoman to Solar Power Portal.

“The Hinkley Point C footprint and output infographic is simply designed to show the land area and energy output of Hinkley Point C compared to other types of production sites,” the spokeswoman said.

“The infographic is not intended to favour one type of energy source or technology over another and we remain committed to a secure, diverse energy mix that includes renewables, new nuclear and gas,” she added. The infographic did not include information on the land use intensity of conventional forms of generation.

Lightsource Renewable Energy’s Turner said the figures on land use were “meaningless” if they were not put into context.

“With over 44 million acres of farmland in the UK then by DECC’s own figures solar farms would occupy less than 0.3% of that land,” said Turner.

“Today Tesco announced that it throws away 30,000 tonnes of food in just half a year.  We have calculated that the maximum impact of PV solar land usage is the equivalent [in land use] of less than 5% of what the average family throws away every year. This waste dwarfs the impact renewable energy has on land usage.”

Speaking at the recent Solar Energy UK event DECC minister Greg Barker reaffirmed his commitment to his personal solar target of 20GW by 2020 but warned that pursuing unpopular sites for development would not be tolerated in the long-run.

“If the industry does not develop in a sustainable way, then I will ensure that government policy makes it happen. I will not allow solar developers to grow rich on public subsidy from mega-arrays that scar our countryside,” said Barker.

“In other words, do not allow a few irresponsible companies to ruin the reputation of what I know to be a popular and responsible industry,” he added.

Barker cited the Solar Trade Association’s (STA) 10 Commitments as a helpful guide for responsible development.

Commenting on today’s Hinkley announcement the STA said that price alone made a convincing case for solar over nuclear.

The STA calculated that by today’s prices, solar would require £86/MWh for 15 years in 2019/2020 compared to the £89.50-92.50/MWh agreed for the electricity from Hinkley Point C.

“Renewables must be treated on a level playing field. Solar power has already achieved unprecedented cost reductions over the last three years and is projected to continue to reduce costs in real terms over the next decade,” said Paul Barwell CEO STA.

“Solar power risks being unfairly constrained in the UK even when it will be cheaper than other low carbon technologies,” he added.