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UK rooftop solar courtesy of DECCC.

Clean Power

UK Bets On Solar But Nukes Lurk In The Shadows

First, the good news for solar fans. In what is being billed as “the first of its kind in the UK,” the Department of Energy & Climate Change announced a new UK Solar Strategy that focuses on building a vast network of “solar hubs” on buildings and brownfield sites. This updated plan dovetails smoothly with the decentralized, low risk, low cost, distributed generation model that favors renewable energy and local control.

Unfortunately for nuclear opponents, last month the UK also updated its low carbon strategy to re-emphasize the role of nuclear energy, which puts the nation back to square one in terms of high risk, high cost, centralized power stations.

rooftop solar hubs are the focus of new UK Solar Strategy

UK rooftop solar (modified) courtesy of DECC

The UK Solar Strategy

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) announced the new UK Solar Strategy just last week. By focusing government resources on developing public facilities for solar energy, DECC aims to encourage the private sector to follow suit with factories and commercial buildings as well as residential sites.

The new strategy highlights a trend that we’ve noted frequently at CleanTechnica and our sister site PlanetSave, which is the green and bottom line twofer involved in solar energy. That consists of the potential for multipurposing the built environment for renewable energy generation, turning buildings and other pre-developed sites into dynamos that add value to a property, rather than exploiting virgin land to develop new power stations.

As we’ve also noted, the new UK Solar Strategy also recognizes that the distributed model offers more community control and support for local economic development and local job creation.

Here are the money quotes from DECC (breaks added):

We want to move the emphasis for growth away from large solar farms and instead focus on opening up the solar market for the UK’s estimated 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops.

Solar increasingly offers efficient and cost effective onsite generation opportunities to both businesses and domestic consumers, and our strategy makes a step change in our ambition for both, as a means to generate renewable energy.

Widespread solar will ensure a better deal for hard pressed consumers and help move towards a greener, more local energy sector.

The UK Solar Strategy also dovetails with another UK  Department for Education initiative aimed at incorporating more solar power into school grounds while making school buildings more energy efficient.

More Nukes!

The Solar Strategy updates the UK’s “Roadmap to a Brighter Future,” which launched in October 2013, but that’s not the only element of the Roadmap that’s been updated.

The Roadmap also includes a nuclear element that the UK updated this year, on March 7. The update confirms the UK’s commitment to nuclear energy, with the expectation that multiple new power stations will be up and running by 2019.

The update lays out a nuclear-friendly regulatory environment aimed at removing uncertainty and risk to investors.

The UK still seems to be banking on the idea that nuclear energy can insulate it from the kind of supply uncertainty and energy geopolitics at play in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, but one more Fukushima-style disaster could sour the public on that approach.

We’re also thinking that despite lobbying from the nuclear industry, the emphasis on nuclear power will fade as advanced energy storage technologies come into mainstream use, but that remains to be seen.

Solar Hubs In The USA

Although new to the UK, the Solar Strategy echoes a number of programs initiated by the Obama Administration here in the US, including the Energy Department’s SunShot low-cost rooftop solar initiative and an EPA brownfields/clean energy redevelopment program called Re-Powering America’s Land.

The US list also includes a $1 billion rooftop solar initiative called Solar Strong, partnering the Department of Defense with Elon Musk’s (yes, that Elon Musk) SolarCity.

Not to pile on but New York State also recently announced a comprehensive, community based rooftop solar initiative. A core part of the strategy is leveraging government and school facilities to serve as best practices models for the private sector to follow.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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