Wars have consequences. Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine destroyed the complacent notion that joining the world into one giant marketplace would eliminate armed conflicts between nations. Now the chickens have come home to roost, leaving much of the world vulnerable to the whims and fancies of dictators. But there is also a bright side, even if it will cost a lot of money. Russia has severely restricted the flow of cheap methane to its European customer, causing the price of electricity to skyrocket. This in turn has made the business case for solar power so compelling that demand is exploding across Europe.
Germany embraces wind and sun
In April, Germany introduced new policies designed to speed up the construction of new wind and solar facilities. It will make more land available for renewable energy production and speed up permitting procedures to make Germany’s electricity supply nearly carbon-free by 2035. Kerstin Andreae, head of BDEW, the German energy industry association, said: It must be clear to all ministries involved and at all levels – whether federal or state – that the expansion of renewable energy sources is the order of the day, not only for climate protection, but also for to become less dependent on fossil energy imports.
The new push for more renewable energy from wind and solar power is no longer framed as a solution to the problems of a warming planet. Instead, it is a way to increase energy security, something that is in the national interest of all countries. Putin’s madness has brought into focus the struggle between progressives and reactionaries over whether humanity should stop burning fossil fuels and put it to protect the economic interests of all countries—which most people agree is a worthy goal.
The problem now is not carbon dioxide, but the instability of energy prices, especially methane. Renewable energy prices don’t explode and then crash with excruciating regularity. Stable energy prices allow industries to make appropriate plans for the future. Wild swings in energy prices create chaos, as happened in Texas in the winter of 2021. Any rational person would prefer stability to chaos if given the choice.
David Wedepohl, executive director of the German Solar Association, said CNN Business this week, “[Demand for solar] only strengthened by the war against Ukraine that is taking place on our doorstep. That’s something that’s on people’s minds a lot.”
Schneider Electric, one of Europe’s largest industrial companies, says demand for its solar heating systems in Germany has “almost doubled” this year compared to the same period in 2021. The company’s sustainability department, which advises businesses on clean energy purchases, also according to Konstantin Elstermanna, the company’s vice president of home and distribution, has reached an “all-time high” in requests for advice.
While the lack of materials and supplies is a challenge, finding qualified workers to install new solar systems is a challenge, especially for homeowners. “Some electricians are booked three to six months in advance,” says Elstermann. “This bottleneck almost overcomes the current shortage of raw materials and production capacity. We know that supply problems due to the pandemic are temporary, but the shortage of skilled workers persists. As a result, retired electricians are returning to the workforce and roofing contractors are rushing to teach more people how to install solar panels.
Jim Gordon, CEO of Smartflower, said CNN Business“Our business is booming because there is a perfect storm of elements converging here that really elevates solar energy. People worry about energy security An autocratic dictator can turn the valve on the gas pipeline and turn off the power, but no one can control the sun.”
The biggest concern now is that people don’t freeze this winter. Many people in Europe depend on this cheap methane from Russia to keep their homes warm, but a spike in the price of methane will put a significant strain on many household budgets – assuming any gas is available at any price.
For now, Germany has resorted to igniting its coal-fired power plants to reduce gas consumption and ensure the country stays lit, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear the government is not happy about it. “It is bittersweet that we now have to temporarily use some of the power plants that we have already shut down due to Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine. But it’s only for a while,” he said last month.
The War Against the Sun In Great Britain
Across the Channel, a political battle is brewing over who should replace Boris Johnson. As is often the case in such campaigns, reason and rationality have been tossed aside as the two leading candidates battle to see who can make the most outrageous claim about the “threat” of solar energy.
Carbon Brief reports that ground solar panels currently cover only 0.1% of all land in the UK. The government’s plans to greatly expand solar power to meet its carbon reduction targets would bring this up to 0.3% of the UK’s land area. Golf courses in the country take up twice as much land. According to Corine Land Cover data, farmland covers 56% of the UK. About 70,000 km driven2 is a pasture used for grazing cows and sheep and approx. 67,000 km2 is for growing cereals and legumes.
Liz Truss, who appears to be the front-runner to replace Johnson, told supporters earlier this month: “Our fields should be filled. [with] our fantastic products. [They] shouldn’t be full of solar panels and I’ll change the rules. I will change the rules to make sure we use our high-value farmland for farming.”
To make matters worse, her main rival for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak, wrote a pro article Daily Telegraph in which he said: “On my watch we are not going to lose parts of our best farmland to solar farms. Instead, we should make sure that solar panels are installed on commercial buildings, sheds and properties.
This overheated campaign rhetoric earned some backlash in the British press. Carbon Brief says Sean O’Neill, chief reporter for Timeshe wrote that the pair “exhibit stunning ignorance” and “pander to the whiners in their tiny electorate”. IN Daily TelegraphThe paper’s chief City columnist Ben Marlow wrote: “Britain’s culture wars have reached such epically absurd proportions that even the sun is now the enemy.”
This line of attack on solar energy appears to be a theme among Conservative politicians in the UK, even though the latest figures show that 73% of Conservative voters support the expansion of solar energy.
According to Solar Energy UK, approximately 6 acres of land are needed for every megawatt (MW) of energy produced. The UK currently has about 14 MW of installed ground-based solar capacity, covering about 230 square km today. This is just under 0.1% of all land in the UK.
The government proposes to install an additional 38 MW of ground-based solar power by 2035. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, future solar power will need 2 to 4 acres of land to produce 1 MW of power. Assuming an average of 3 acres per MW, the amount of land needed to meet the government’s target would cover about 700 km2 by 2035 — just 0.3% of the UK’s surface. Golf courses cover more territory.
Farmers know best
All this hysteria about protecting valuable farmland may play well with some voters, but it doesn’t align with the thinking of many real farmers. Carbon Brief spoke to Tom Martin, who designed a solar installation on his mixed farm in Cambridgeshire. The project would see around 65,000 solar panels placed on around 100 acres in three fields. Martin describes the idea of adding solar panels to pastures while the sheep are still grazing as a win-win situation. “It’s not ‘produce 10 units of energy’ or ‘produce 10 units of food’. It can be six units of both. And then your two halves are suddenly bigger than the whole.”
Choosing fields for solar power depends on a combination of factors, Martin explains. This includes, for example, the best way to connect the system to the grid, but also to select fields that generally produce lower yields. In other words, there is more to it than just political rhetoric.
He says his farm constantly rotates between grass and cropland, adding that “in the last 10 years we’ve changed 200 acres from grass to cropland.” So despite moving 100 acres back to grass for solar panels, the farm will still produce more grain than it did a decade ago.
A spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which represents tens of thousands of farmers in England and Wales, said. Carbon Brief that their “preference” is for solar farms to be built on lower quality agricultural land, but added: “Renewable energy production is a key part of the NFU’s net zero plan and solar projects often offer a good diversification opportunity for farmers.”
Kevin McCann, policy manager at trade body Solar Energy UK, says Carbon Brief“Solar also helps keep UK farmers in business by providing them with a stable income stream. More solar also means less dependence on gas, which is why the UK is in a cost of living crisis.
Silly political rhetoric may win elections in the UK (and many other places too), but nothing moves markets like cutting off energy supplies to a country. The ripple effects of OPEC oil embargoes lasted for decades. The only thing Vladimir Putin could have achieved, apart from murdering countless innocent people, is a renewed recognition of energy independence.
People and their political leaders increasingly see renewable energy sources as the best and least expensive path to energy security. And why not? Wind and solar energy already cost less than electricity from thermal sources. Current methane restrictions have only exacerbated this gap.
Europe, and yes, even the UK, will be well on its way to energy independence within a few years and a fully carbon neutral electricity grid in a few years. Putin has probably accelerated the transition to renewable energy sources by a decade. In the US, the latest anti-inflation law was probably made possible by the need to overcome petty disagreements in order to respond appropriately to energy uncertainty.
In the end, because Russia made the sale of fossil fuels the basis of its economy, Putin actually cut his own throat. Good. No one deserves it more than Pooty Poot.
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