Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are being poured into dying nuclear companies such as British Energy. But if we put solar electric roof tiles on just one in 10 British roofs, we could shut down the lot of them. Our concerns about terrorism are being hijacked by the powerful oil interests that govern the USA. But by going solar, we can speed the transition to using clean hydrogen for transport and rid ourselves of the need for Middle Eastern oil.
On the one hand, we hear predictions of economic and ecological ruin if greenhouse gas emissions continue to be poured into the atmosphere from the burning of oil, gas and coal. On the other, we watch governments agree to do little or nothing about it at the summer's earth summit in South Africa. There is no longer any reasonable doubt about the gravity of the threat. Unless we cut emissions drastically, ruinous global warming is predicted by every government research centre in the world that studies the issue.
Now is an ideal time for individuals or institutions to fight back against society's historical neglect of solar power. A wide-ranging energy review is under way in the UK, and next year the government will make decisions that will lock us into a programme of actions for the next 25 years. One of those actions must be to accelerate the development of solar energy. Encouragingly, the government has recently begun helping homeowners, companies, local authorities and institutions to pay the capital cost of systems by providing a grant. On average, the government will pay 50% of the cost of your solar system.
Going solar offers value benefits in every area. In the public sector, a 100 kW installation of the kind that was recently installed for Birmingham council at Alexander Stadium, an indoor athletics stadium training facility, will save more than 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. This is an inspirational example for the community, generating local pride as well as electricity and acting as a trigger for positive change. Birmingham council tells us that the stadium roof has had a stream of visitors and that copycat projects are in the pipeline.
For individual homeowners, an average solar roof will generate about 1000 units of clean electricity a year, saving £80
For companies, the benefits of installing a solar photovoltaic system on a store, office or factory begin with brand equity. PV installations are popular, and can act as a PR-generating symbol of a wider sustainable development agenda. In an era of growing corporate social responsibility, this alone can be worth far more than the capital cost of the installation. In retail, improved attitudes towards the brand can lead to increased footfall in solar stores. At a time of widespread and growing concern about global warming, the reductions in emissions produced by an installation can be very valuable in terms of employee esteem and loyalty.
For developers, solar-powered homes seem to sell quicker and for premium prices. Installations my company has completed for homebuilders have added more value than the capital cost of the system. On top of this, developers will be able soon to amalgamate and trade renewable obligation certificates (supplied by electricity companies as proof that electricity has been generated from renewable sources), which currently trade at a minimum of 3p/kWh of clean energy generated.
For individual homeowners, an average solar roof will generate about 1000 units of clean electricity a year, saving something like £80 at today's prices. Once the capital cost is paid, the roof provides free and inflation-proof electricity for 30 years or more.
Jeremy Leggett is chief executive of Solar Century, a designer and installer of solar systems. Visit www.solarcentury.co.uk.