Solar economics: do they add up? | University of Oxford
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Solar economics: do they add up?

Pete Wilton

Could the problem of global warming be solved simply by making fossil fuels more expensive?

Writing in The Guardian Ashley Seagar reports that as the price of oil goes through the roof solar power is seen as increasingly attractive. This is especially so in Germany where feed-in tariffs oblige utilities to buy in renewable energy at above the market rate.

It poses some interesting questions about whether economic or technological efficiencies are actually slowing the spread of renewables. As I've mentioned before Oxford researchers are amongst those looking at how to improve energy generation from solar power.

Yet, whilst we can expect improvements in solar power (and other renewables), as was pointed out at a recent debate on energy at Oxford electricity is only part of the story. Over half of the energy we use is expended on heating space and water - something the electricity supplied by solar cells would be particularly ill-suited to.

Are we ready and willing to rip out all our gas boilers and replace them with inefficient electric heating? Can we afford the trillions needed to transform our energy infrastructure from a centralised model in which energy flows out to one in which a large portion is drawn in from here, there and everywhere?

There's another sting in the tale for people who say renewables are a 'magic bullet' for our energy woes. As the price of oil rises so nuclear energy, just like solar and wind, will start to seem more attractive too...