The sky is falling in! No worries…

Last week our lovely media decided to unceremoniusly dump any nuance or uncertainty and declare the British summer a thing of the past. At least for another decade. The Met Office held a meeting discussing the recent run of wet summers where it was reported that there are some indications that this may be linked to medium-term (decades) variations in the behaviour of the Atlantic Ocean.

So I was brought into an email conversation by the company I work with who had been contacted by a major newspaper to ask how this might affect solar power in the UK. Could we say with any confidence that it would make no difference? Did last year suck? If so, how badly did last year suck, can we put any numbers on it?

The piece for the newspaper doesn’t have anything about solar power in the end. Maybe it wasn’t as interesting as rising sales of wellies or a need for us to all start taking vitamin D supplements (caution: suspected total bunk). Anyhow, I spent all of half an hour looking at the historical numbers I happen to have lying around and playing the game of “If there are 10 wet summers…” even though it’s far from assured and personally I think it’s a crap way to report science (note, it’s in the paper under ‘weather’, not ‘climate’). So here’s my analysis:

1. If solar has a bad year because of a dull, rainy summer then the chances are that the other big renewable technologies, wind and hydro will have bumper years. The negative correlation between them is very handy.

2. The overall climate trend is a warmer world and that’s because we’re burning all the dead things we’ve dug and sucked out the ground. Solar power helps deal with this.

3. Last year was pretty crap for solar power in the UK. Looking at Met Office data for nine sites, solar radiation was on average 3% below the 2000-2012 mean (figures are on the horizontal, it’s almost never measured on a slope making the lives of solar researchers like me worth living/much trickier). In three of the nine sites, last year had the lowest radiation in that same time period. The worst case year was on average 6% below the mean year and in only one case was it below 90% (just).

4. Solar costs are falling hard and fast and will continue to do so for several years to come, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predict that the installed cost of solar power will fall over 40% between now and 2020. With those numbers, a 6% or even a 10% drop in the amount of solar radiation would still only make a small dent in the falling cost of solar electricity.

I’m actually delving a little deeper into what’s been happening with solar radiation and with the various services which compile this data for use by the PV industry and should have some more interesting results (and pretty charts!) soon.


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