England’s green power: East Riding best for wind while Cornwall tops solar

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Analysis by Green Alliance has mapped onshore wind turbines and solar panel installations for the first time. The East Riding of Yorkshire is England’s top area for producing wind power, a new analysis has found, with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire not far behind. The national hotspot for solar generation is sunny Cornwall, perhaps unsurprisingly. But though Cornwall is also one of the windiest counties, it fails to make the top 10 for wind electricity generation. Cambridgeshire emerges as arguably the greenest county in England and Wales, in terms of electricity generation, as the only county to make the top 10 for both onshore wind generation (in third place) and solar power (fifth place). The analysis of the distribution of green power generation around the country comes from the Green Alliance thinktank, which has mapped onshore wind turbines and solar panel installations for the first time.

Three Welsh counties – Dyfed, Mid Glamorgan and Powys – figure in the top 10 for onshore wind, though the analysis did not include Scotland. Separately, figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on Thursday showed that Scotland produced more than half of its electricity needs from renewable sources last year, for the first time. Amy Mount, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance, told the Guardian: “The distribution shows that countries are playing to their strengths. Most of the wind power is clustered in the windiest sites, generally coastal areas, and the south gets more sun than the north. While funding for renewables is constrained, developers will favor the sites that maximize their technology’s potential. It also means these are the places that will suffer from the drop in construction activity due to the current block on subsidy-free wind and solar power. There’s much more we can do across the country to make the most of our great British weather.”

The future of onshore wind and solar power are now in doubt, as the government has slashed support and brought in tighter rules on planning permission to discourage new construction. Ministers have also taken a hostile stance towards renewables in their rhetoric, to the consternation of investors. The chilling effect on the renewable sector comes even as the economics of onshore wind and solar power have never looked more  favorable, and about a quarter of the UK’s electricity now comes from renewable sources. Mount said: “Wind is now cheaper than new gas plants and is one of the most popular forms of electricity generation. Solar costs have come down dramatically. Renewables are now core to the UK’s electricity system. Yet in the March budget the government did nothing to clarify whether onshore wind and solar technologies have a future in the UK.” She added that the government’s system for ensuring the future of the electricity supply, which relies on contracts awarded to generators, was not providing enough assurance to maintain a steady supply of renewable generation construction. “Developers need subsidy-free contracts to ensure the electricity they generate will be bought, to give them the confidence to invest. But we still don’t know if or when these will be available and in the meantime families and businesses are paying for more expensive, high-carbon energy.”

Sonia Dunlop of the Solar Trade Association said that although current solar generation is concentrated in the south-west, other areas were catching up. “The UK’s solar transformation started in the south-west, with the south-east hot on the west country’s heels. That is made clear in this data. But solar photovoltaic technology works well all over the UK, and deployment is now picking up all over the country. However, we are at risk of stopping this in its tracks, due to the government’s decisions to cut back or close the subsidy framework. We need to get behind our industry and invest in a market that will soon be worth trillions worldwide.”

Local authorities can also make a big difference to whether onshore wind and solar installations are encouraged or thrown out during the planning permission process. Martin Heath, director of the Hampshire Renewable Energy Cooperative, said: “Hampshire is one of the country’s sunniest areas and it is brilliant to see us third in the [solar] league table. But we are also one of the highest per capita users of electricity, so we need to make the most of our tremendous potential for more renewable energy. We have some of Europe’s best tidal resources in the Solent, and wonderfully windy areas off our coast. Hampshire is England’s most wooded county so we have lots of biomass as well. We should be aiming to be number one [in renewables].” Scotland, not included in the Green Alliance maps, has its own target, from the devolved government, of generating 100% of its electricity consumption from renewable sources within five years. But much of the policy framework on which renewable energy investment depends is still in the hands of the Westminster government. Jenny Hogan, director of policy for Scottish Renewables, the trade body, said: “There is still a huge amount of potential for future growth [of renewables in Scotland] if the industry is given the right backing by government. [But] recent changes to government support and hold-ups in the consenting process for offshore wind farms have set us on a path to fall short of the 2020 target [of generating 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewable sources].”