Monday 23 October 2017

Something Really Interesting in ... Flitwick!

I have been a big, unapologetic and, OK, obsessive critic of subsidies in the energy sector for a good few years.  I'll come on to a possible, partial defence of them in a second, but let's pause to acknowledge a Big Day in the history of "green" energy.  A subsidy-free** solar-plus-battery-park has opened in our very own Flitwick, Beds!
Rather dull photo: Anesco
Steve Shine OBE, Anesco’s Executive Chairman said: "For the solar industry, Clayhill is a landmark development and paves the way for a sustainable future, where subsidies are no longer needed or relied upon. Importantly, it proves that the Government’s decision to withdraw subsidies doesn’t have to signal the end of solar as a commercially viable technology."
Yes, the government is quite properly chuffed about this, as may we all be.  Maybe it will work out, maybe it won't.  Maybe it's a dumb use of large-scale batteries, which (I strongly suspect) could make even more money selling quick-reaction services directly to the grid.  Who cares - ? because it's private money!  People make and lose fortunes all the time with their brilliant / dumb ideas: it's what makes the world go around.  C@W, see?

The collapse in 'costs' of offshore windfarms since proper competition was introduced for access to those subsidy-pots is another good sign.  They still want - and get - subsidies, though; and aren't made to contribute to the cost of balancing their intermittent output.

Of course, it's early days, and outrageous subsidies are still being paid to / on offer to:  legacy projects;  Hinkley Point;  biomass-burning power stations that, disgracefully, actually increase emissions of CO2 vs even coal ...  the list goes on.  But hopefully the points are slowly being registered that (a) subsidies needn't be required; (b) subsidies can lead to grotesque unintended consequences, as well as unnecessary costs being heaped onto (in this case) electricity users; and (c) whatever scheme you are going to come up with, it will be better if you put it out to auction / competitive tender.

Not required?  The subsidy lobby (which includes people who aren't even beneficiaries! - and who probably be most dismayed to meet the flinty-eyed subsidy-farming bastards they have helped to enrich) would argue that without the R&D and the 'new industries' helped into being by the first decade and more of crazy bungs for crazy schemes, we'd never have reached the happy position where this may soon no longer be needed.  There is, of course, a soup├žon of truth in this.

But (a) it could have been done better by (i) funding only the R&D and (ii) ensuring proper competitive conditions every step of the way.

And (b) it didn't need to be done by us!  Let other coutries waste their money on the R&D - they won't fail to sell their stuff to us in due course.   We know this, because that's exactly what they do right now.

If, of course, every penny spent in the last decade of British subsidies went to British universities, R&D shops, engineering firms and manufacturers on competitive terms, it might be seen in a more favourable Keynsian light.  As we know, that is far from how things have been.  And we're not done yet with this monstrous waste.


** Everyone is saying "subsidy-free" but I wouldn't be surprised to learn there is actually some modest form of subvention going on here in one form or another.  Cynic?  Moi? 


Electro-Kevin said...

It wouldn't be so bad if those R&D ideas didn't get filched by other countries.

When industries that have benefitted from our universities are put up for sale surely the taxpayer has some stake in them ?

Industry invests 4% in university R&D

The government puts in 66%.

Demetrius said...

Flitwick is the station for and close to the major airship base at Cardington along with the Shuttleworth Aviation Museum. Indeed one of the key locations in the development of aviation in the world, not just the UK.

Dick the Prick said...

@EK - yep; the graphene example from Manchester alone is enough to make a frown man cry.

DJK said...

The solar farm is visible on Google Earth and appears to occupy what would otherwise be agricultural land. Is it better to grow food or grow electricity? I don't know, but surely a better place to put solar + battery is on the roofs of large buildings. (Or small, since I don't see any major economies of scale here.) Or perhaps follow up the suggestion that crops up from time to time of paving roads with solar panels.

Re hidden subsidy: If I was to guess it would be in the water bills. Solar energy farms require surprisingly high amounts of water to keep the panels clean.

Anonymous said...

"surely a better place to put solar + battery is on the roofs of large buildings"

Yes indeed, and particularly buildings that house industrial processes that work well with intermittent power supplies. For example, a plant that captures CO2 from the air and makes synthetic fuel -- some of the fuel can be used to drive generators when the sun doesn't shine.

The main thing is to ban connecting these intermittent power sources directly to the grid.

Don Cox

rwendland said...

Anon, don't think banning buildings connecting PV directly to the grid (I think you mean local/regional network here [*]) would make much difference - if they grab any shortfall instantaneously from an electricity supplier. City demand would just instead fluctuate according to current cloud cover.

[*] At one time over 50% of inshore wind supply (the smaller farms) was connected to regional networks not the grid, causing some analysts to amusingly misread the statistics. Now the large grid connected wind farms dominate, so much less of a aberration in the statistics.

Anonymous said...

Off topic I guess, but what are your thoughts on biodigesters for small scale generation?

Nick Drew said...

I'll stick up a short post, anon.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

I would very much like to be proved wrong - really. I suspect that the Flitwick project will not be providing a web presence on a 24/7 basis to regale the rest of us with the detail performance of the system.

A jaundiced view would be that with over 100 other solar farms at risk from any cut in subsidy they are trying to take out an insurance policy where they offer this "subsidy free solar farm" going forwards to the "renewable sunlit uplands"

There is little truly novel about the system deployed and of course no subsidy from those 100 other solar farms was used in its construction.

Unless / until they expose the full accounting and operational detail - I reckon its BS.