Room with a view

Danielle Tile explains some of key considerations facing the renewable energy industry at present

In February, BP claimed that renewable energy will be the world’s main power source by 2040. So, as the UK strives to achieve its own clean power targets, the question remains as to why the nation appears to be lagging behind.

Considering the realities of climate change, research has shown that most people support investment in wind and solar power, however in practice it can often be a case of ‘not in my backyard’.

The EU Energy Directive in 2009 saw the UK Government commit to generating 15 per cent of its energy using renewable sources by 2020. While it’s widely-accepted that the country needs longer to deliver on its promise, the shared end-goal of a more sustainable future is a significant driver for continued growth in cleaner generation models.

The future looks bright
Historically, one of the main barriers for the adoption of renewable technology was the upfront setup cost of clean energy vs. that of fossil fuels. However, in recent years, the initial outlay associated with utility-scale wind, solar and battery storage facilities has declined significantly.

The falling price of equipment, co-location of technologies, and investments by wind farms to upgrade from nominal power outputs to a greater, more efficient generator, are all helping the sector to flourish. As the cost of the engineering equipment itself – such as photovoltaic panels and steel – is starting to come down, progress towards a cleaner future will inevitably continue.

Although there’s no denying that England still has a way to go to match some of its EU cousins, Scotland and Wales are already ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing clean energy. The nature of our climate and successful adoption by our closest neighbours makes it abundantly clear the demand is there.

Changes to government subsidies
The reduction in government subsidies has made the industry rethink how to encourage the growth of renewable technologies and sector implementation. In order to generate the required income for developers to take the step into an unsubsidised future, consideration must be given to the routes to market.

By removing government-mandated support and introducing cross-subsidisation of subsidy-free schemes – where new projects co-locate with those already connected to the grid or battery storage sites – there’s a much clearer path towards achieving grid parity.

Community investments
In England, renewable development applications must first be approved by the local communities – unlike in Wales or Scotland. As a result, developers work hard to create community cohesion around projects.

Often, schemes which go ahead are backed by further investment directly into the community – through fixing buildings or landscaping parks – in order to compensate for any disruption caused to local residents.

In addition, when working on a renewables project ourselves, Smith Brothers tries – wherever possible – to utilise local workmen on the site. Whether that’s through offering additional employment for labourers and farmhands, or paying land owners to use their property and outbuildings to store equipment and materials.

Green energy? Yes, but not in my back garden
One problem the industry continues to face – which shows no sign of abating – is the notorious not-in-my-backyard culture, also known as ‘nimbyism’.

The latest turbine technology means the vast structures are ghostly quiet and governed by strict planning regulations which keep them a good distance from the nearest dwelling. While objection can often be down to genuine concerns – such as disruption to local wildlife or unsuitable cable route proposals – more-often-than-not it comes down to visual impact.

While many agree that a solar farm or group of turbines are more aesthetically pleasing than a nuclear or fossil-fuel power plant, objections from people complaining about changes to their view does have serious implications to the UK achieving its sustainability targets.

Roy Harrison, owner at Roy Harrison Architects explained: “Of course, no one ‘owns’ the view from their living room window. However, most of the opposition to new developments – be it renewable energy infrastructure or otherwise – is the change in the visual landscape.

“In my opinion, a wind turbine is quite a beautiful feature. Their sculpture-like design promotes sustainable energy in an elegant yet simplistic way – by depicting movement and energy – which is something the population needs to support in order to provide the best possible future for generations to come.”

This is not the first time that ‘nimbyism’ has reared its head in the world of renewables, as Marcus Brew, managing director of Waste to Energy shredding specialist UNTHA UK explains.

“For years, prospective resource projects have been met with resistance in the UK. Of course, planning concerns are sometimes understandable, and it is important that people can have their voice as new renewables infrastructure is commissioned. But there have been many cases when the nimbyism largely stems from a lack of knowledge about the subject matter.

“Some people may perceive state-of-the-art recycling facilities or Waste to Energy plants to be dealing with nothing other than ‘smelly rubbish’ for example, and there have been damning headlines about ‘dirty incineration’ too. But technologies have advanced which means many such facilities are in fact extremely clean. The industry has therefore had a job on its hands to better engage with communities so that they are armed with the facts, not misconceptions. It hasn’t been easy, and efforts must remain ongoing.

“What I’m trying to say is that nimbyism is not a new problem and it’s not always down to what people can see out of their windows – sometimes they don’t want these projects anywhere near their homes! But with communication and dialogue, this can change. In some parts of continental Europe, Waste to Energy plants are at the heart of the community and something to be proud of!”

What’s next?
The amount of wind bestowed on the UK makes it the ideal site for turbine-generated-power – you only need to consider the old windmills farmers utilised to grind their flour not so long ago. These traditional wooden structures supported a vital industry prior to the development of new, more efficient technology.

In that same vein, renewable energy solutions offer a natural progression in our power resources as a nation and are replacing the old, inefficient coal plants which are having a detrimental effect on the atmosphere.

Since 2009, the UK has decarbonised its electricity grid more than any other country. Although much of this is as a result of coal being replaced by gas – with only a modest contribution coming from the renewable energy sector – the framework is in place to progress to a cleaner future. Watch this space.

Smith Brothers Contracting Ltd
Danielle Tile is business development manager at Smith Brothers Contracting Ltd. Smith Brothers Ltd is a large, turnkey electrical contractor with 20 years’ experience. The firm has worked on a vast portfolio of projects throughout the UK and overseas – both as an ICP and EPC contractor – and offers ongoing preventative maintenance, ensuring your equipment continues to run smoothly.

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