Friday, 24 July 2009

As little renewable energy as possible?

As renewable energy expands as an energy source, we are being forced to make some uncomfortable choices. We absolutely need renewable energy - for the climate, for the atmosphere, for energy security and freedom from fossil fuels. At the same time, some of the projects, like the Severn Barrage or the huge onshore wind farms being debated for Shetland and the Isle of Lewis, are hardly ideal, with far-reaching consequences for some of the most ecologically important and wild parts of the UK.

In my mind these problems make several things clear. First of all we want as little large-scale energy generation as possible. Of any kind. Wind turbines are better than coal plants, but they are still not ideal. This to me seems one the strongest arguments for small-scale and decentralised energy, and for more efficiency. If you don't want windmills on the hills, support measures to get solar panels on roofs.

Secondly, a revolution in clean energy to combat climate change needs to be part of a wider environmental shift, a catalyst for changing the way we view the environment in Britain. There can be no business as usual, with renewable energy simply adding to the industrialization of our landscape alongside everything else.

Finally we must be prepared to return things to 'wild' - however flawed a phrase that may be. As the industrial patterns change to cope with new technologies and new energy sources, we cannot simply gobble up more land and return nothing. Naturally we should try to use brownfield land over new greenfield, but if it cannot be sensibly re-used we should not be afraid of returning it to its natural state. Trees are more fun to play in than car parks in any case.


  1. Alisdair - I went through the same thaught processes well aware of jo public's lack of real interest and committment. I then discovered the TREC project, see - and decided this was the way to produce all the energy a prolifigate society feels they want. Do read the RED BOOK and also the ADASOL projects in Spain.

    Regards- John Oates

  2. Hi John. Yes, I recently heard about the Desertec project and have been lookiing into these large-scale CSP projects too. It is a very exciting idea. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all against large-scale renewables where appropriate, but we need a mix.. particularly in crowded countries like the UK.. I do feel that the mix of large solar, large offshore wind and decentralised renewables could be a powerful combination.

    Will have a look for Red Book..

  3. There are a lot of moves towards distributed energy production, eg Transition Towns
    Have contacts worldwide, plus un-developed technology for cheaper offshore wind, and solar water heating

  4. Ferrand - I followed you link and see you have a project in Liverpool.. what's going on up there?

    Also, on the large scale desert generation (John), I suspect that there will be strategic limitations to how much energy we can produce from North Africa alone (eggs in baskets).. but still an interesting plan.