UK should target 10 million solar panels by 2020

Imperial College solar graph
Graph: Imperial College

Ten million homes in the UK should have their roofs covered with solar panels in the next six years, if the country is to fulfil its renewable energy potential, energy experts said on Wednesday.

That number - of more than a third of households generating energy from the sun - would allow the UK to produce about 6% of its annual electricity needs from solar power, with as much as 40% coming from the panels on sunny days in summer, by 2020. These figures are comparable to those of Germany, which has made a major push on solar power in the last decade.
Installing more solar panels brings the costs of the technology down dramatically, because of economies of scale, as the example of Germany and other countries shows. By 2030, the cost of solar should be comparable to that of even the dirtiest forms of coal, and of gas, said Ajay Gambhir, of Imperial College London.  Other research suggests far sooner than this.
At present, the cost of solar power in Germany is about 10 Euro cents per kilowatt hour, compared with about 6 to 8 Euro cents per kilowatt hour for “brown” coal – the most carbon-intensive form of the fuel, but also the cheapest. On current trends that should reduce to 6 to 8 Euro cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy by 2030, while the cost of fossil fuels can go only one way.
But these aspirations and binding targets will only be met in the UK if the government spearheads a move to install more solar panels, not just on houses but also on large public buildings and offices, and through the building of “solar farms”, in which large arrays of panels cover fields.
Germany has managed to incorporate renewable power from sun and wind into its energy mix successfully, thanks in part to the government’s decision in 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear incident to pursue an “energiewende” – a nationwide energy transformation – to remove nuclear power and concentrate more resources on renewable energy.
Sadly in recent weeks, the main focus of Cameron energy generation policy has been shale gas, which the prime minister spoke out for in Davos, the annual meeting of the rich and powerful. Ministers have argued that shale gas exploration could be a major source of indigenous energy.  Given such compelling evidence and feedback from ''those that know'' this just seems unbelievable and short sighted.

From the Guardian