Monday, 30 November -0001

Solar-fuelled future

Not everyone is gifted a solar-fuelled future, discovers Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
The south coast can be very sunny. But is it sunny enough to save the planet? A few years ago local councillor Jeremy Birch called for Hastings to become the UK’s first solar-powered town. He didn’t really elaborate on how this might be achieved, or what would happen to the infrastructure if there was a really wet winter, but his optimism was catching and there was a spike in installations.

So far his dream has yet to become a reality. An average of 2,000 hours of sunshine a year is impressive, but clearly not enough to persuade everyone to coat their roofs in glinting panels. And, as I recently discovered, for solar panels to work, you need a roof that faces approximately 45 degrees south and doesn’t get overshadowed by other buildings or trees. Not easy boxes to tick in a town.

Solar power is nothing new of course, the Ancient Greeks regularly used the sun’s reflective rays to light fires and torches. They built houses with ‘sun rooms’, south-facing structures that allowed the occupants to have a warm, all-year-round environment; rather like ancient conservatories. These became so popular that by the sixth century AD a law was passed to ensure the ‘sun rights’ of the citizens – effectively banning anyone from building too close so as to cast a shadow on another’s ‘sun room’.

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Most of us now live with shadows cast by our neighbours, so it is difficult to see how the majority of the population will qualify for this alternative energy source. Still, at the last count there were 650,000 solar installations in the UK, including those on roofs. For those who were quick off the mark, their receipts from the Government’s ‘feed-in’ scheme were impressive, on average £1,000 a year, money that was guaranteed for 25 years.

By the time I had even come to consider installing solar panels, the bonanza had been cut to about £600 a year and only guaranteed for 20 years. Still, with the average price of installation around £5,000, you do get your money back, plus an apparent reduction in your electricity bills of around £130 a year. What you don’t get is permission from the council if your house is listed, which mine is. But you do get to pay for those living on the sunny side of the street.

Next week: Crumbly cliffs


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