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Last updated: 13 April 2022

Importing Solar Energy into the UK

Solar Energy in the UK

As a general purpose, solar panels convert sunlight, a renewable energy source, into usable energy. There are different types of solar panels, specifically solar thermal panels which use sunlight to generate heat and photovoltaic (solar PV) panels which convert sunlight into electricity.

Solar panels are most effective in direct, intense sunlight so when taking into consideration the UK, the climate of the region does not permit for a large-scale solar electricity generation. Due to this reason solar technology is typically used to generate energy for the immediate needs of individual businesses, homes and even for “devices” such as road signs.

In countries that experience an intense amount of sunlight, photovoltaic panels are becoming a cost-effective way to generate electricity compared to the UK, where solar PV is still an expensive way to generate electricity.

Reasons for Importing Solar Energy into the UK

Solar farms are slowly becoming a popular phenomenon in the UK, due to concerns that Britain's aged electrical grid has limited capacity for renewable energy. However, their presence is received with mixed feelings due to their taking up of land that can be used for purposes such as agriculture as well as increasing cost for annual taxes.

Due to the fact that sunlight is not intensely present in the UK region, there is public concern that the expansion and capital investment in such solar farms is not necessary for the area. 

The expansion of solar panel farms has triggered the distress of environmental campaigners who are concerned by the size of the farms which are being proposed to be built. They also argue that using agricultural land for energy production is exchanging one form of dependency for another.

Although solar panels are a more environmental conscience way of obtaining energy then the present methods, their installation has a negative impact on the environment to some extent as well, the manufacturing of solar panels is very energy and resource-intensive, while their electrical output is quite low in a region such as the UK, which due to its climate does not experience high levels of sunshine.

Therefore, there are advantages and disadvantages of solar panels to consider when discussing the implementation in the UK.

Importing Solar Energy

One of the solutions in reducing the carbon emissions in Europe is to import solar power from other regions such as North Africa. In recent years there have been several proposals to use the sunshine hours in North Africa to generate solar power for European use.

In the project to import solar energy, plants will be concentrated along the North African coast with the goal of generating electricity that can then be transmitted by an undersea cable through the Mediterranean Sea to join the European electricity network.

The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change has recently given permission to developers of renewable energy projects, including solar PV projects, which are not based in the region, to bid for contracts that will give them subsidies to supply power. As a result, this would allow the import of solar energy from different regions of the world such as the African continent to power UK homes in the upcoming years.

The proposed plan to import solar energy into the UK has been developed by the joint-venture project “TuNur”, a partnership between two British renewables investment companies and private Tunisian investors who have started investing on the project already.

Developers say the plan will provide consumers in the UK with power that is 20 per cent cheaper than home-grown renewable energy. As a result of the plan the UK will be at the forefront of the fight against climate change and it would help both economies grow within greenhouse gas emission limits.

Import Picture

Africa is a key location to developing the project due to the many advantages the region presents. Its geographical location is close to Europe, thus the distance the energy will travel is not considered an impediment, the Sahara has virtually no population and will therefore not affect the lives of people who depend on living from agriculture and furthermore the region presents more sunlight to harness.

While the project seems to be hopeful for importing solar energy into the UK, the competition at home is skeptical about the plan, due to several reasons such as the issues of energy security. Others are warning that the political instability in the region is likely to disrupt the project as well as the factor of increased cost compared to the methods which are used in Europe.

The incentive of importing solar energy from Africa is the beginning of a much more vigorous solar energy plan for the UK, and the answer to cheaper, more affordable energy for the region as a whole.  While this project is focused on concentrated solar power, this paves the way for future large scale energy projects, which will strengthen UK industry health.

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