Solar or sheep?


In an opinion piece some while ago, concerning local energy from renewables, I mentioned that Romney Marsh, with all its open land, would be the perfect place for a solar array, and on a recent trip through Spain from north to south there were a number of such arrays – much less of a blot upon the landscape than wind farms. I fully realise that Spain has a lot more sunshine on average than the UK, but with advances in technology, solar panels are now able to operate with acceptable efficiency even when direct sunlight is unavailable.

It seems that others have had the same idea as several companies are understood to be showing interest in establishing just such an operation on Romney Marsh. There is, of course, a long way to go before we see acres of bright shiny fields making power for our homes, offices, shops and factories and there are bound to be objections from wild life enthusiasts (doubtless a few great crested newts will miraculously appear on any site deemed suitable and available for the project).

However, this surely is going to be a case of the greater good. We already know that there is a world energy shortage caused by a combination of industry coming back to life after the worst of the pandemic, and some major producers, such as Russia, declining to increase production. Add to that the refusal of the relevant authority to grant licenses for some oil companies to open up new North Sea gas resources and it is possible to see why prices for oil and gas are rising and beginning to be reflected in our household bills and warnings of winter power cuts.

The green lobby, of course, would probably be entirely happy to don three extra layers of hand-spun sackcloth during the coldest weather and use Victorian tallow to light our homes. Most of us, however, would not – particularly the elderly and others not in good health.

To sacrifice some of the many thousand acres of marsh to secure a continuity of supply would seem to be a small price to pay and if further clean energy generators such as the ‘mini’ nuclear power plant currently being championed for Dungeness by its local MP and possibly tidal generators (although full development of this technology has some way to go), not only would Rye and the surrounding area have a secure source of supply, but our little corner of Sussex (with a bit of Kent) could be a serious contributor to the zero carbon agenda.

Image Credits: Wikipedia .

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  1. Must this be an either/or situation? One would think that solar arrays might be sited in such a way that they could co-exist with grazing sheep—perhaps a bit of extra height or extra spacing between rows so that the grass gets enough sunlight? Worth investigating, so that we all get the benefits of both farming and low-carbon electricity.

  2. If we are also being encouraged to eat less meat, then this might make sense, but I tend to agree with the comment above made by Lawrence Willson. Perhaps not for grazing sheep, but at least for either crops or wildflowers or something green.

  3. Fairly recently I commissioned an expensive professional installation of solar panels on my roof, with associated controls. I was assured that power output was related to light, not sunshine, and even during winter days it would be good. It isn’t. The array has a rated output of 6kW. On a bright sunny day it produces 2kW for the best part of 10 hours – which, bearing in mind that the array is fixed but the sun is moving, isn’t too bad. But now, on cool days when we really need the power? As I write it is 0.25kW, and that level of output will only be maintained for about 6 hours a day. I can’t speak for Spanish arrays, or commercial solar farms in the UK, but I can offer my own experience. Which isn’t that encouraging really. I think I’ll be voting for the sheep, especially if we re-learn how to use all that valuable wool that we currently throw away.

  4. Another expensive and inefficient way of wrecking the beautiful landscape of Romney Marsh.

    Romney Marsh lamb is amongst the best in the world.

  5. There are a large number of solar panels already on the Marsh at Old Romney.Can not be making much of visual impact if no one knows about them

  6. The problem is that a solar panel can only capture the same area of light as its size – this is not capable of providing sufficient power to power any large scale energy user eg factories.
    Further solar panels – even the newest ones – last only 40 years. The rare earths and critical metals which are essential to make solar panels ( and wind turbines) will become supply constrained as economically viable concentrations of elements such as neodymium, dysprosium, indium, selenium, tellurium, terbium and gallium are found in only a handful of countries. These metals are sometimes currently mined by indentured children in some of the poorest parts of the world. You also need them for mobile phones.
    Also the data around animals fed on grass is ignored. Cattle fed on beans in artificial pens are not good whereas grass fed animals (often feeding in places unsuitable for plant crops) are better for the planet than cutting down rainforests to grow soybeans and avocados which then have to be transported half way round the world.
    Listen to Russell Brand interviewing Vandana Shiva/ watch Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans or watch /read anything by Bjorn Lomborg to find how we can best help deal with climate change.

  7. As Edward Emson says there are already a large number of panels in place at Old Romney – the solar farm there measures 1/2 mile across in either direction. Have a look on Google Earth – you won’t miss it!


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