Harvesting the sun, not cereals, is worth a trial

Ewan McGregor  as Renton in Trainspotting - the gender neutral toilets Zella has visited are almost as grubby

ZELLA COMPTON: Men – just aim it in the right direction and we’ll all be happy!

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Developers are racing to install large-scale solar parks on land across the UK in unprecedented numbers.

If you want an idea of what one looks like, take a drive past the farm off Newgate Lane, Fareham.

There, on 66 acres of apparently lower-grade agricultural land, 3,418 racks of solar panels have been installed.

The farmer who owns the land will get a better return for harvesting the sun rather than cereals.

But, as ever with alternative energy projects, this scheme has proved controversial.

The rush to harness the sun’s rays has been sparked by concerns that Britain’s ageing electrical grid has limited capacity for renewable energy.

Environmental campaigners are concerned by the size of the solar farms and the Fareham scheme is by no means the largest.

Britain is not known for its sunny weather, so the idea of a boom in solar energy might seem ironic to some, especially after the winter we have just endured.

But the government sees photovoltaic power as a key element in reaching renewables targets for 2020. In its recently-published roadmap it urges an eight-fold increase in solar power over the next six years.

Coupled with green subsidies that give a guaranteed rate of return over 20 years, farmers in the sunnier parts of the UK have been increasingly interested in raising silicon arrays, rather than crops or livestock.

Some critics of the government say the growing interest in all things solar is because voters are less likely to object to PV panels than they are to wind turbines or alternative sources of energy such as shale gas and the fracking process used to extract it.

As we report on pages 8 and 9 today, the Fareham panels are intended to remain for 25 years. By then they should have become a firm fixture in the countryside and have gone a little way to helping solve this nation’s energy problems.

They should be given a chance and perhaps we should thank our lucky stars (or the sun) that this Fareham field has not sprouted turbines.