The first large-scale solar farm in Northern Ireland was opened yesterday in Antrim.
The Lightsource Renewable Energy facility is near Belfast International Airport and will supply a remarkable 27% of the airport’s electricity need.
This is quite a statistic. You only need to drive past the front of the airport, let alone walk round its terminal, to know that it has major energy needs.
The buildings are long, the computer equipment in parts of the premises such as the control tower must be extensive, and runways need strip lighting.
Northern Ireland gets miserable amounts of sunshine compared to most of continental Europe, and gets hundreds fewer hours of sun per year even than southeast England. Yet this development has shown that solar can be a major part of the energy mix even in this Province.
Germany, which is far from the sunniest part of Europe, has been a pioneer in the use of solar, already getting 7% of the country’s entire energy needs from it.
Stormont has a target of Northern Ireland getting 40% of its energy needs by 2020, which is only four years away.
Parts of Ulster are well suited to wind power, and it too will form a major part of renewable energy, but there are significant environmental consequences from wind turbines. Large solar farms are hardly attractive either, but there are numerous locations that are suited to them because they are mostly sheltered from public view or because they are industrial.
This site, that is directly connected to Aldergrove, is claiming to increase biodiversity levels, including newly planted hedgerow and wildflowers and installed bird and bat boxes.
Almost no scientists dispute that human activity has impacted on the earth’s climate. The main dispute is as to the scale of that impact. It is prudent to assume that it will be at the more damaging end of the spectrum. Europe and America are using technology to help cut emissions, and the growing use of solar will help improve that further.