As the oil dries up, the planet chokes in smog and we career blissfully toward an apocalypse of our own creation, the need for green energy has become more urgent than ever. With cold fusion still a distant impossibility, scientists and leaders are desperately scrambling to concoct a solution to the biggest problem of our times. Wind farms are sprouting up, debates are raging and consensus still looks far away. But all is not lost; from recycling to solar energy, the general public are supporting renewable resources in droves. Here we take a close look at the prevalence of solar energy in the UK; who is using it and why:
Regions: Who Goes Green?
Solar isn’t used uniformly across the country, far from it. For example, the amount of panels installed across Scotland and especially the Highlands is almost negligible. Obviously, this isn’t a surprise: the Highlands can have as little as 711 hours of sunshine annually, compared to nearly 1,500 for the UK. With winter seeing as little as 1 hour of sunshine per month in some areas, the idea of solar power doubtless seems like a daft Southern fantasy.
The trend continues down into the extreme north of England; Newcastle and the Northumberland area installing more solar panels than Scotland, but still relatively few. It isn’t until we hit Leeds that the first spanner appears in the works: although the city receives an average of 50% less sunlight than London, solar panel installations are in the top bracket. How come?
Well, a 2012 study measuring the ‘greenness’ of UK cities came to the conclusion that the richer a city is, the greener it is likely to go. Leeds may not compete with the capital, but it is ‘wealthier’ than nearby Manchester; and both are richer than Liverpool, which ranked bottom of the green list. Looking at the map of solar distribution, we can see that Manchester has fewer installations than Leeds, while Liverpool barely outranks the Scottish Highlands.
A vague correlation of wealth and ‘greenness’ continues across the country (with some outliers), until we hit the South. By the time we reach the notoriously sunny South West, only a handful of areas such as Torbay rank any lower than the top bracket for solar panel installation. Even traditionally poor, rural communities that haven’t been swamped by moneyed refugees from London rank highly. The obvious conclusion to draw is the opposite of the Scottish one: in the South West (avg. hours of sunshine, 1600 – 1900 annually), the benefits of going solar are immediately obvious.
The London Riddle
One of the most immediately striking things about the distribution of solar panels is the comparative lack covering London. Located in a high potential area (map) and famously crawling with wealth, the modest number of installations (at times comparable to the Highlands) seems counterintuitive. Despite being ranked as one of Forum for the Future’s top 10 sustainable UK cities (#10); the leap to harnessing solar seemingly has not yet been made.
One answer could be the great disparities between incomes in the population. For every enclave of super-rich bankers luxuriating in their millions, there are several more areas suffering real deprivation (Hackney famously suffered a 186.4% rise in long-term youth unemployment last year). No matter what subsidies are on offer, splashing out any amount on solar installation is an impossibility for those on the bottom of the economic ladder.
Another factor to take into account would be the high instance of renting in the capital, even where the middle classes are concerned; along with the widespread use of social housing. Put simply, unless you own a home with room for installation (immediately discounting flats), there is little point in even enquiring.
At the end of the day, solar is just one of many alternatives to fossil fuels currently on offer to UK residents. While it may not be practical for everyone, for those who can take advantage, it’s encouraging to see its use beginning to take off. Will it continue to rise in the face of economic Armageddon? Only time will tell.
This is a contributed report from UK based insurance company, PolicyExpert.co.uk. Find out how solar panels affect your home insurance by visiting their site.