Introduction to Renewable Energy
The idea of renewable energy sources and the choices between the different types can be a daunting prospect for people looking at investing in this area, particularly in line with the potential risks of withdrawn funding and lack of government support. There are many considerations to take into account for landowners, particularly those that also own businesses, who are thinking about moving to a renewable energy source, or selling their land for development to a renewable energy supplier. Here, BHW’s Renewables Department looks at some of the more common renewable energy sources and examines their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Wind turbines are perhaps the most noticeable option when it comes to renewable energy, not least because of their physical size and presence which makes them easily identifiable from miles away. Wind turbines work by harnessing the power of the wind to generate electricity with each turn of their huge blades, and they can be found as a single turbine or in groups. Clearly, the level of energy generated in this way depends almost wholly on the amount of wind in the location the turbines are stationed, and this should be the first consideration for anyone planning to invest in this type of renewable energy, or indeed for anyone thinking of selling their land for wind turbine development.
If placed in a good location – somewhere exposed to the wind, unblocked and elevated is ideal, meaning Scotland, Wales and Western England are often good locations – wind turbines can be the quickest way of recovering the investor’s money or, if selling for development, generate the highest purchase price. This is because wind turbines are a reliable and effective source of energy when used correctly, and the only main drawback is the potential difficulty in obtaining planning permission. Due to their size and, subjectively, unpleasant aesthetics, it is unsurprising that many people would object to proposals to build wind turbines in residential areas or in a place of natural beauty. Again, therefore, this means that selecting an ideal location is the key to using wind turbines as a renewable source of energy.
Solar Photovoltaic (Solar Panels)
The next most recognisable source of renewable energy is arguably solar panels, which convert the power of the sun into electricity. Solar panels can be attached to the roofs of buildings or placed on the ground. This means that any property can be suitable for solar panels, be it large patches of land (agricultural or otherwise) or buildings (either residential or commercial). Clearly, areas with the most sun will be most suitable, such as the south and western parts of England. Similarly, properties most suitable for solar panels will have surface areas large enough to catch the most radiation from the sun, as this will in turn generate the most energy. Also, any properties that use the bulk of their electricity during the day, where solar panels are most effective, will see the biggest advantages of this source of renewable energy.
One of the key benefits of solar energy is that solar panels can be used where other sources of energy, principally wind turbines, would not be accepted. Solar panels are largely innocuous, and would face much less opposition in applications for planning permission. Indeed, some schemes for rooftop panels do not require planning permission at all.
The main weakness for solar panels as a source of renewable energy, however, is the fact that they only work during daylight hours, and will not be as effective in built up areas with restricted access to the light. The advantage of being relatively easy to obtain and erect may outweigh the negative of a reduced amount of energy generated, but this is something a potential investor or seller should consider when making their choice.
This involves the burning of biogas produced from organic materials (manure, food, slurry etc) to produce heat and electricity. This source of renewable energy is perhaps most suited for agricultural land, as most of the resources required, the organic materials, will be found most commonly on farmland. On top of this, another product of anaerobic digestion is a material that can be used as fertiliser, which many farmers could make good use of. Similarly, businesses that find themselves with copious amounts of food waste could also benefit from anaerobic digestion.
This source of renewable energy, when optomised, can generate vast amounts of energy, and the cost of the organic materials required would clearly be minimal for the likes of farmers, who acquire such materials as a by-product of their primary business. The level of energy generated is also not dependent on unreliable circumstances like the wind or sunlight, giving the owner of the land more control over the amount of energy they create. This control does, however, come with its own drawback in that a large amount of time and experience is often required to be able to run a successful, consistent anaerobic digestion system. Added to this is the fact that they are not the most appealing systems to live close to with the smell of burning biogas, which could create a problem akin to those faced by wind turbines in the opposition met by those attempting to run one.
Given the inexpensive nature of anaerobic digestion for those already in an ideal place to optomise the running of these systems, this source of renewable energy lends itself more to someone looking at investing in renewable energy, rather than someone looking to sell their land for the development of renewable energy.
Similar to anaerobic digestion, a biomass boiler generates heat by burning materials, and in this case that material is wood. This type of renewable energy lends itself to those operating agricultural land with ready availability to woodland resources, as the materials required to generate the energy are already supplied, cutting out the need to pay a third party. However, biomass boilers require a lot of space, as the owner needs to not only house the system itself, but also store the wood required to operate it. Careful consideration needs to be paid, therefore, to whether or not they are the most economical use of the available land. Because of this, smaller properties may be completely unsuitable for this source of renewable energy.
Careful consideration must be taken for anyone thinking of investing in renewable energy, be it through the development of their own system or by the sale of their spare land to a third party. Many different factors can affect the viability of certain renewable energy projects, meaning certain businesses or types of land are more suitable to certain sources of renewable energy.
As with all things, there are risks involved with all types of renewable energy resources. While the government is currently looking at funding these projects, this support could be withdrawn if they do not see enough of a return in terms of energy saved. The technology used to generate energy in all circumstances may not always be completely reliable (although warranties and guarantees are likely to be available). These risks need to be considered by any potential investor when looking to get into the renewable energy market.
If you are looking into the viability of renewable energy for your business or land and have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch with someone in BHW Solicitors’ Renewables Department on 0116 289 7000. Using its collective experience, our Team is able to advise you on the following;
- Grid connections;
- Power purchasing agreements;
- Supply and maintenance agreements and the associated equipment contracts;
- Construction and groundworks warranties and contracts;
- Direct agreements;
- Feed in Tariffs (a form of subsidy);
- Option agreements; and
- Financing your project.