Harnessing the sun’s energy
The amount of solar energy hitting the Earth continuously is estimated at 173,000 terawatts. MIT claim this amount is more than 10,000 times the world’s complete energy use from all energy sources. Of course, capturing all the solar energy hitting the Earth and putting it to a practical – and, ideally, commercial – use is a challenge too far for modern technology.
However, harnessing just a small proportion of that energy could supply the world’s energy needs with a renewable energy source set to last billions of years into the future. A reassuring time frame given predictions for oil give us around 47 more years until the proven supplies run out - if we keep burning through it at the present rate - not to mention the ongoing geopolitical pressures and the climate emergency.
As reliance on fossil fuels reduces, renewable energy is predicted to soar with solar set to form a significant proportion of that mix. Some research suggests that if solar is to support Europe’s energy needs alone an area the size of Hungary (37,912 square miles) would need to be covered in solar panels. So, this raises the question; how are we going to achieve this clean energy transition?
The solar power of real estate
The urban environment seems an unlikely space for renewables but in the race for power some interesting innovations are taking place. France has long been a leader in alternative energy sources, generating the bulk of its power from nuclear. President Macron’s government has now introduced legislation to require all car parks with more than 80 parking spaces to be covered in solar panels. For France, a country with considerable resources and a large renewables sector, this is a natural step. For French car park operators, this is a seismic shift. Companies that will be affected include Indigo, with upwards of 430,000 spaces, Effia with 276,000 spaces, and cross border operators like Interparking who manage upwards of 20,000 spaces.
Purely from a financial standpoint this will demand a sizeable re-alignment. The timescales are also relatively pressured; smaller car parks of 80-400 spaces have 5 years from 1 July 2023 to make the change, while larger car parks with more than 400 spaces only have 3 years from the same date.
France is not alone in seeking to encourage the adaptation and exploitation of concrete spaces in the push for renewable energy growth. On this side of the channel, the UK government intends to boost solar capacity with a target to more than treble capacity from 14 gigawatts to 50 gigawatts by 2030. Solar ports in car parks are nothing new for the UK, with private sites such as the Bentley factory in Crewe amongst the early adopters. Unlike France, however, there are no specific UK government proposals for mandated changes.
The adoption of solar in real estate predominantly flows from a mixture of part-government funded and local authority/private sector led projects, along with targeted grants aimed at encouraging adaptations to houses. Recent local authority-led projects to either purchase or adapt real estate for the purpose of solar generation include:
- Cambridgeshire County Council installing around 4,500 solar panels on solar car ports at the Babraham Park and Ride site
- Kent County Council acquiring the Bowerhouse II Solar Farm in North Somerset last year to use the power to reduce their carbon footprint, financed through circa £14 million in grants from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. This scheme is intended to provide around £635 million in funding before 2025 to support emissions reduction in the public sector.
- Work which has begun on Cambridgeshire County Council’s North Angle Solar Farm project, aiming at producing enough electricity at the 180-acre site to power 12,000 properties. This is being directly funded by the Council at a cost of around £26 million.
Sports and renewables
The sports sector controls significant amounts of real estate and has been pursuing renewable energy with intelligent capital expenditure. Innovative examples of the various approaches being taken to utilising clean energy sources include:
- Football: League Two side Crewe Alexandra plans to install thousands of solar panels at their onsite parking facilities which cover four acres of land. They follow in the footsteps of stadiums on the continent, with the Netherlands’ national stadium, Johan Cruijff Arena, having 4,200 solar panels on the roof.
- Cricket: Clubs have been keen adopters of renewable sources. For instance, Lord’s sources all its electricity from wind power produced at the London Array. Alongside this, the new Warner Stand has solar PV and solar thermal panels that boost Lord’s green credentials by generating heat and additional energy for the site.
- Stadium: Berlin Olympic Stadium is making a substantial investment in solar power, installing a photovoltaic system on the stadium roof capable of powering the entire 74,000 capacity stadium
By adapting their real estate assets, the sports sector is leading the way on the urban energy transition. Sports facilities often cover a large amount of real estate, giving them lots of potential space for innovation. Given sports stadiums so often stand out in both their city skylines and the hearts of those living there, progress in this sector will be central to promoting change in our human environments.
A bright horizon
Achieving a clean energy transition is an ambitious target – but one that can be reached. As our urban environments continue to transform, the case for solar power and other clean energy features as part of the energy matrix is ever greater. The recent Mission Zero review commissioned by the Government identified solar power as having a significant role to play in our transition to net zero. Commercially, incorporating clean energy features such as solar can lower costs on energy bills and support ESG goals. However, solar panels may not always be a welcomed solution, as the recent controversy generated by King’s College Cambridge’s plans to install solar panels on the roof of its iconic Chapel has demonstrated. Globally, sectors are moving at pace to transition towards green energy through the adaptation of real estate and the transformation of our urban environments. It seems like the sun is at last rising for green energy projects in our cities.
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