Where renewable energy is the norm and not the exception

November 29th, 2010 by Richard Lord

I visited the Netherlands recently to attend a family wedding.   During the wedding party a member of the family told me that there were “about 40 wind turbines” only ten kilometres away.

They were across the border in Germany between the cities of Goch and Kalkar.  So on Sunday 21 November my wife and I drove across the border to visit them as one does if one is interested in renewable energy.

We didn’t know exactly where they were but we scanned the horizon until we found them.  They were located on farm land in pretty countryside.  They appeared to be a good source of supplemental income to the owner of the land as all the wind turbines were quietly spinning away generating electricity.

photovoltaic panels on farm buildings and wind turbines on farm land near Goch, Germany on 21 November 2010 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

But it wasn’t the wind turbines that caught our attention although it had been the reason for our visit to Germany – it was the ubiquitous photovoltaic panels on the roofs of farm buildings, homes, schools and even a police station.   Photovoltaic panels covered roofs in every direction even though they were not always placed in the most advantageous position.  Some photovoltaic panels caught the shadow of adjacent buildings or tree branches.

photovoltaic panels on a school on the outskirts of Kleve, Germany on 21 November 2010 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels on a police station on the outskirts of Kleve, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Photovoltaic panels on a police station on the outskirts of Kleve, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels on farm house near Goch, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels on farm building near Goch, Germany on 21 November 2010 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels on a farm building near Goch, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels on a farm house near Goch, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

According to the Solarbuzz website Germany has a generous feed-in-tariff (FIT).  The money earned from generating electricity from sunlight spurred the photovoltaic industry and the installation of photovoltaic panels in Germany.  The money earned from electricity generated from photovoltaic panels provides the most generous of the many different FITs for renewable energy.

I thought perhaps that the huge number of photovoltaic panels observed was unique to this border region of Germany but a British guest at the wedding had recently visited Nuremburg.  He told me that “about half the homes in Nuremburg had photovoltaic panels on their roofs.”

According to Solarbuzz, in 2006 Germany installed 968 MW of photovoltaic electricity generation capacity.  According to Wikipedia, Germany installed a record 3,800 MW of solar photovoltaic panels in 2009.  The 2 June publication of Renewable Energy World.com, stated that Germany could install up to 4,500 MW of capacity in 2010.  To put this in context, Guernsey reached a peak electricity demand of about 84 MW in early 2010.

photovoltaic panels on farm buildings near Kleve, Germany on 211110 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

photovoltaic panels cover the roofs of farm buildings near Goch, Germany. There are 20 wind turbines in this area too (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Thirty photovoltaic panels and two flat plate solar thermal panels on a private home on the outskirts of Goch, Germany (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

All these images were taken within a distance of about 15 kilometres.  The number of photovoltaic panels seen on Germany roofs provided a sharp contrast to the aerial view of Guernsey rooftops.

An aerial view of a few Guernsey buildings taken in October 2010. How many solar panels do you see? (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Guernsey is a laggard when it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The Isle of Man and Jersey are ahead of Guernsey when it comes to initiatives to save energy.  Fortunately, Guernsey has recently hired an Energy Conservation Officer but this role will focus on saving energy for States of Guernsey infrastructure.

Guernsey requires legislation to facilitate the installation of micro-renewable energy technologies on people’s homes and commercial buildings.  I am not necessarily advocating photovoltaic panels, which may not be cost-effective for Guernsey, but every Guernsey home that has an eastern, southern or western facing roof should have installed solar thermal panels.  These are cost-effective.  If sized correctly they can provide at least 60% of a residence’s hot water requirements.

The Guernsey community is not energy efficient at the moment.  Most of our buildings leak and waste copious amounts of heat in winter, which we pay for.  The first step is for our homes and commercial buildings to be energy efficient.  Then we can harvest local renewable resources to provide a large percentage of the energy we use.

The Guernsey Housing Association with support from the States of Guernsey Housing Department should be congratulated for their energy efficient developments at Victoria Avenue and at Mont Beauvoir

3 Responses to “Where renewable energy is the norm and not the exception”

  1. Alan

    The recently revised Planning Law allows fitting of “solar panels” (no differentiation between solar thermal and photo-voltaic) on domestic properties without requiring permission, provided a few simple requirements are met (i.e. parallel to the roof plane and not more than 300mm above it, and not on a roof slope facing the road; or, if on the ground, not more than 2m high, not more than 10 square metres, and not more than 10m away from the house). If the requirements cannot be met, it simply means an application is needed so the proposal can be assessed.

  2. rosie dorey

    Alan’s comment above shows that there has been a small improvement in Guernsey’s approach to micro-generation. But where Germany, and other jurisdictions, win hands down is in their policies that actively encourage an up-take in micro renewable energies. By guaranteeing a premium price paid for any energy fed into the grid for a specific period of time, people can see how quickly they will pay off their original investment and thereafter make a profit.
    As is said in the article, Guernsey is woefully behind.

  3. Paul Fletcher

    There are issues with the Guernsey Housing Association and States Housing installs and that is the main heat source is ‘direct electric’ heaters only 100% efficient with minor solar thermal offset. If you look carefully at some of the pictures shown, some buildings have two solar thermal panels, typical of solar hot water contribution. i.e. the ideal is both, as illustrated (with wind ideally). The difficulty arises when one installs 100% efficient direct electric heaters rather than heat pumps. They use four times more electric, which means four times the investment and four times the roof area is required for Photovoltaic Panels (PVs). What we do not know from the pictures is the heating system and the lighting and appliances used. Gas, oil, heat pumps, wood, or direct electricity or a combination. What we see here is very good illustration of how to move forward, but its the tip of the iceberg. How should one power the industrial nation of Germany???! Lastly, since Germany is receiving less solar energy than Guernsey, is it not logical that the island will benefit greater with solar PVs? Recommendation: if you can afford it, invest ‘above the bottom line’ in this order: energy efficiency of home; heat pump; efficient hot water tanks; efficient controls; solar PV; solar thermal; wind. Do it all, now, before its too late.

Have your say