Food Security

Government to report to Parliament on food security.

Food security is a global issue, but for many people, it is also a very immediate concern. Households in the UK want to have access to affordable, nutritious food, while governments want to ensure access to sufficient and safe food. Meanwhile global issues such as climate change, trade and conflict are challenges to the world’s ability to feed a growing population. The new Agriculture Bill 2019-20, reintroduced to Parliament in January 2020, introduces a duty for the Government to report to Parliament on food security.

Food security is vital for the UK. We import 45% of our food.  In 2019 it cost £11.5 billion to import just fruit and vegetables. We are losing good quality land due to pressure from industrialisation, plus residential and infrastructure demands.  If we don’t protect our farmland, we will import even more of what we eat. The world is going to struggle to produce more food particularly as climate change takes effect.  Here is an interesting article from the House of Commons library about Food Security.

UK land loss to UK agriculture has been assessed at 40,000 hectares (almost 100,000 acres) a year and rising.  Food supply chains are fragile.  This has been well illustrated by the pandemic, Brexit and the recent shortage of lorry drivers.

Our land is finite, it must be used in the right way.  Farmers support biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and a host of other public good services. Farmland acts as a carbon sink and is an important part of the UK’s national renewable energy supply.

Speaking on the NFU’s Self-sufficiency Day, NFU President Minette Batters said:

“For an island nation, being able to feed our population is absolutely critical. Even as a global trading nation, shocks can expose fragilities in any reliance on imports. We all experienced the impact of this during lockdown.

“Imports will always play a crucial role in our food system but our own self-sufficiency must be paid more attention by government. It is stagnating. We sit now at only 64% self-sufficiency, having fallen from over 75% in the mid-1980s.

“The entire economy is now aiming to build back better, to build back greener. British farming can be central to that green recovery. We have a golden opportunity to place food security at the centre of our food system and become a global leader in sustainable food production.

“We have the capacity to do much more. We cannot let our self-sufficiency slip further. The government has a crucial role to play in this. Food security should be placed at the heart of wider government policies and there needs to be an annual reporting system to ensure we do not allow our domestic food production to diminish.

“Our self-sufficiency in vegetables and potatoes is falling and it’s low in fruit. We can and should drive a horticulture revolution. At a time when we should all be eating more fruit and veg, we should be looking to our farmers to deliver more quality, affordable and home-grown fresh produce to our shelves.

“This will need government investment in agriculture and, crucially, our water infrastructure to better manage increasingly volatile weather. Better water infrastructure can allow us to use one of our most abundant natural resources in rainfall to more effectively grow food and take a more integrated approach to water management.

“Farmers are uniquely placed to improve their productivity while delivering for the environment. It is crucial there is investment in agriculture as part of our green recovery in order to increase our food security, level up rural economic growth, drive green job opportunities, stimulate demand for rural tourism and help deliver the NFU’s ambition for British farming to be net zero by 2040.”

Here is a link to the NFU Statement for Food Security.


Solar Farm – Planning Permission Refused

Birchall Green Farm, Sinton Green, Hallow, Worcester, WR2 6NT

Area 21 ha (52 acres) 46,170 panels – Planning Ref : 21/01846/FUL

The Birchall Green Farm solar development would have been smaller than the proposed North Dairy Farm ‘major’ development. Still, its rural location, and the harms identified to the settings of its surroundings, are pertinent – as are the Planning Officer’s considerations. and decision


The Expert Planning Officer concluded that overall, the proposed solar development would be an alien and discordant feature within the pastoral setting, and would be harmful to the setting of the heritage assets, which would not accord with national policy and weigh significantly against the proposal.


The ‘less than substantial’ harm to the ‘settings‘ of the heritage assets weighs significantly against the proposal. He noted that the availability of a nearby grid connection is not a factor of any particular weight in the determination of the overall planning balance.


He also pointed out that the need for renewable or low-carbon energy does not automatically override environmental protections, and although the site does not carry any form of landscape designation, the Framework identifies a need to recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside in general.


He concluded that the proposal would result in negative harm to the users of the footpaths and visitors to the area, whose perception and experience of the landscape tranquillity would be appreciative of its undeveloped rural character.

He stated: “The adverse impacts cannot be addressed satisfactorily on the site given the scale of development and the undeveloped character of the locality. The suggested planting mitigation measures would not be out of keeping, rather the associated semi-industrial presence would not be adequately addressed.”


At the heart of the National Planning Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development which has three interdependent dimensions – economic, social and environmental. In light of the harmful environmental impacts identified. The proposal would not represent sustainable development. When taken together, and considering the leisure and recreational use made of the surroundings by visitors, the development would, on balance, outweigh the public benefits of the scheme.

Here is the Officer’s Report in full.

Grimley Solar Farm Action Group


Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

A Dorset resident’s considered view. Expressed in a letter to Dorset Council

‘Robbing Peter to Pay Paul’

I fear the proposal to site a very large solar Farm in the sweet green fertile farmland of the Vale of Little Dairies looks very much as the heading describes.

There is no need for Solar Farms on greenfield sites. The government has recently expressed its wish to use wind energy going forward. This change of direction is also emphasised in the now urgent scheme to encourage at speed the further rewilding of the countryside with emphasis on the insects and wildlife in general, all of which are under severe duress thanks to our thoughtless activities. Why then would we blunder into an area where the environmental health is good and put it in jeopardy?

Steel, glass, installations of every sort, larger roads more traffic. It makes no environmental sense at all. This is not a green project. It is destructive. Damaging the environment to produce green energy (by day only) cancels itself out. This is not progress; we are no further forward in our supposed aim to stop destroying our environment.

Furthermore, what thought is being given to protecting productive Farmland for the very uncertain future ahead where we may need every acre to produce food in the coming difficulties caused by Climate Change. We only produce 60% of our food as it is. As southern countries become dryer, we may well be grateful for every inch of land to feed ourselves.


A Dorset Council Guide

Snippets from the: Offical-Wessex-Ridgeway-Trail-Guide (

On a clear day, you can enjoy spectacular views reaching out across the Blackmore Vale as far as King Alfred’s Tower. “

Thank you to members of the British Horse Society, Ramblers’ Association and all the landowners whose help and support made this multi-use trail possible.
The trail has been developed and is managed by Dorset Countryside, Dorset County Council’s Countryside Ranger Service, Dorset AONB, Liveability and the Environment Agency. Produced and published by Dorset Countryside, Dorset Council, County Hall, Colliton Park, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1XJ.

Dungeon Hill

Dungeon Hill is an Iron Age hillfort, about 1.25 miles north of the village of Buckland Newton. Although there is no access, a bridleway runs parallel to the east of the earthwork. However, this lack of access has meant positive preservation of the area. A previous landowner inserted brick arches into the ramparts, while doing this he unearthed human bones, sword blades and roman coins. The summit is currently circled by trees.

Rawslbury camp

Rawlsbury Camp, a five-acre Iron Age hill fort, is situated on a promontory of Bulbarrow hill. The remains of the camp include the twin embankments and intermediate ditch which surrounded it. The hill gets its name from the several barrows that adorn the hill. Additionally, a medieval trackway crosses the ridge, now a bridleway. The whole site is open access. The views stretch out to the west towards Nettlecombe Tout and the north over the Blackmore Vale.

Rawlsbury Camp looking over the Blackmore Vale

Nettlecombe Tout

A promontory hillfort in one of the more remote spots in Dorset. Close by is the Dorsetshire gap, a meeting place of five ancient trackways. The hillfort is formed by a double bank and ditch cutting across the hill called Lyscombe hill, leaving a twenty-acre hillfort at the end. To the north is the village of Mapowder and to the south are the remains of the mediaeval village of Melcombe Horsey. Many cross dikes are also in the area, defending the site on the southern spurs.

Lyscombe hill and it’s southern spurs. Nettlecombe tout can be seen at the top of the picture.

Cross dikes and Nettlecombe.

On a clear day along the whole of this section, you can enjoy spectacular views reaching out across the Blackmore Vale as far as King Alfred’s Tower and southwards along the English Channel to the Isle of Wight.

RAWLSBURY CAMP This Iron Age hillfort dominates the edge of the hillside as you leave the road near Bulbarrow, the second-highest hill in Dorset. This hill has been used for thousands of years, first as a hillfort then as a site for one of the Armada Beacons in 1588. These were used to warn of an impending attack by Spain. Later on, this site was used as part of a chain of hilltop telegraph stations running across Dorset during the Napoleonic Wars. Today this site is home to a rough cross that sits within the fort. On your way to the Dorsetshire Gap there is an opportunity to rest and picnic at the large oak bench designed and made by Reg Budd, another Creative Footsteps’ commissioned artist.

DORSETSHIRE GAP This mysterious junction of five tracks with its steep man-made cuttings lies at the edge of the Higher Melcombe estate. The Dorsetshire Gap has been an important road crossing since the Middle Ages right Ibberton to Folly and Plush 6.0 miles (9.5 km) 117 ST 755 050 Ibberton to Folly and Plush 32 View from above Ibberton O S 33 Ibberton to Folly and Plush through to the 19th century. All around this site there is evidence from before this time from hilltop cross dykes, burial mounds and traces of an unfinished Iron Age hillfort at Nettlecombe Tout 17 to the remnants of a Medieval settlement in the valley below. For many years visitors to the Dorsetshire Gap have been putting their thoughts on paper in a visitor’s book kept at the Gap. The book can be found hidden in the base of the information panel where the five trackways join.

 MELCOMBE PARK – DEER PARK?  Just north of the trail lies Melcombe Park. This woodland is believed to be a deer park whose boundary follows the trail from Breach Wood to the Dorsetshire Gap. The deer park dates from around 1580 and was built by Sir John Horsey. However, deer parks date broadly from the Medieval period and were areas of woodland and open grassland that were enclosed by a ditch and bank to keep deer in. This was very much a status symbol for the aristocracy. Although many are unused today, evidence of these deer parks is still visible all along the trail.

FOLLY  In the past this private house was once the Folly Inn, used as a resting place for Medieval drovers when moving animals along the network of old drove roads, including the Wessex Ridgeway. Bench, Breach Wood 34 Ibberton to Folly and Plush

 PLUSH  High above Plush beside the trail are surviving traces of small rectangular fields, which are part of a prehistoric (pre-43 AD) field system. These once covered large parts of southern England but are now only visible in places that survived ploughing during the Medieval period. There is also a square Celtic encampment visible near the edge of Watcombe Wood. Strip lynchets dating from Medieval times straddle the hillsides around Plush and Lyscombe Farm. These were artificial terraces created so the steep-sided slopes could be ploughed. You can visit the village of Plush and the Brace of Pheasants pub by taking the bridleway that runs down through the valley from the trail just above Alton Pancras.

Offical-Wessex-Ridgeway-Trail-Guide (

© 2023

CPRE review 2022

As this year grows to a close, I want to thank you for the support you’ve given to CPRE this year and remind us all of some of the challenges faced and successes celebrated. And it’s thanks to your support that we have achieved those campaign successes, both long and short-term.

We started the year with a big win for our planning campaign after the government backed down on their plans and instead committed to any new system having ‘effective local engagement at its heart’.

There was also another important U-turn in the autumn with prime minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to re-instate the fracking moratorium after more than 80,000 people signed our petition for a re-think. And we finished the year with a resounding victory when it was announced communities would have more say on local housing targets. Now we’re looking to push home our vision for the planning system in the new year, as the Levelling Up Bill goes through parliament.

A particularly satisfying achievement for CPRE was seeing the impact of a campaign won more than a decade ago and pioneered by the CPRE local group in South Yorkshire and the Peak District, to put power lines underground in iconic landscapes, as pylons tumbled in Dorset and the Peak District.  When the will is there, we can protect our beautiful countryside and support energy infrastructure.

Some of our most cheering gatherings this year have been around our hedgerow work. We invited the then environment secretary George Eustice to join us at CPRE Oxfordshire’s hedge-laying project in Watlington and now have 82 MPs signed up to be hedgerow heroes supporting our call for the government to set a target to increase our hedgerow network by 40% by 2050.

Twelve of our local groups have won funding to carry out planting and restoration projects, as well as working with their communities to spread the word on the value of hedgerows. They and many others joined with us to celebrate National Hedgerow Week in October with nearly 50,000 of you signing our petition hedgerow petition that was delivered to Defra.

We also took the chance to create an exhibition in the Houses of Parliament for MPs to find out more about our work. And just this month we launched our farmer’s survey on hedgerows in the House of Commons – showing that nearly nine out of ten respondents saw hedgerows are important to them and their business and wanting more support to manage them.

We couldn’t have achieved any of this without the backing of dedicated campaigners, like you. Thank you for all you do.

With best wishes,


Tom Fyans
Interim Chief Executive | CPRE The countryside charity

PS: A donation today will help secure a better future for our countryside, for the benefit of us all

© 2023

UK installed most new offshore wind 

Europe installed 17 GW (11 GW in the EU-27) of new wind capacity in 2021. This is not even half of what the EU should be building to be on track to deliver its 2030 Climate and Energy goals.

81% of the new wind installation in Europe last year were onshore wind. Sweden, Germany, and Turkey built the most onshore wind. The UK had the highest total new wind installations because they account for most of the new offshore wind installations. Europe now has 236 GW of wind capacity.

We expect Europe to install 116 GW of new wind farms over the period from 2022-2026. Three-quarters of these new capacity additions will be onshore wind. We expect the EU-27 to build on average 18 GW of new wind farms between 2022-26. They need to build 32 GW a year in order to meet the EU’s new 40% renewable energy target.

  1. In 2021 new wind installations in Europe amounted to 17.4 GW (14 GW onshore and 3.4 GW offshore) as permit¬ting bottlenecks and global supply chain issues continue to delay the commissioning of new wind farms. While 2021 stands as a record year for installations (surpass¬ing the 17.1 GW figure for 2017), they were 11% lower than forecasted.

2. The countries with the most new installed capacity were the UK, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands in that order. Sweden installed the most new onshore wind (2.1 GW). The UK installed most new offshore wind (2.3 GW).

3. WindEurope expects Europe to install 116 GW of new wind farms over the period from 2022-2026. That’s 23 GW a year on average. Three quarters of these new capacity additions will be onshore wind. We expect the EU-27 to build on average 18 GW of new wind farms over the same period. That more than in previous years but still far too low. They need to build 32 GW a year in order to meet the EU’s new 40% renewable energy target.

4. Germany will be Europe’s largest wind market thanks to the strong expected performance of its onshore market over the next five year (19.7 GW) and rising offshore installations (5.4 GW). Other markets with significant new installations over 2022-2026 will be the UK (15 GW total), France (12 GW) and Spain (10 GW) and Sweden (7 GW).

5. Despite higher annual installation rates, Europe will not install anything like the onshore wind volumes it needs to reach its energy and climate targets. Europe would need to install 25 GW of new onshore wind on average per year over the period 2022-2026.

6. A similar picture for offshore wind. Despite growing annual installation rates, Europe will not install anything like the offshore wind volumes it needs to reach its energy and climate targets. Europe would need to install more than 8 GW on average per year over the period 2022-2026.

The full report is here

© 2022

Managing flood risks

A challenge for Dorset will be the significant effect on local flood risks as a result of increases in rainfall.  As Lead Local Flood Authority and Coastal Management Authority, Dorset Council will have a significant role to play in flood risk management, alleviation and mitigation work” (Food Risk Manager). 

The red triangle shows the proposed North Dary Farm Solar Site would be at the constricted neck of the 40 square kilometre ‘funnel’ rainfall catchment area formed by the downs, escarpments and high ground that almost surround the Farm. The critical effect on downstream residents of placing some 55 acres of impervious PV panels immediately in front of the catchment “bottleneck” would have on the speed, timing and intensity of the surface runoff from the site have not been calculated by the developer. Flooding downstream is a major, and life-threatening matter.

The Council’s Flood Risk Management Officers note that: “Solar farms have the potential to reduce the amount of rainfall absorbed into the ground, increase the rate and volume of surface water runoff”, and that “development, through the introduction of impermeable areas, has the potential to exacerbate flood risk


“The experience of this AONB is that although assertions are made that the field surfaces will be largely unchanged that does not turn out to be the case. Frequently the quantity of rainfall on the hard and impervious surfaces of the panels leads to increased surface runoff. To control and manage stormwater runoff, swales are created, along with connecting channels. The impact of that extra activity, along with the impacts of concentrated volumes of runoff water, do need to be fully assessed.”

(Richard Burden BSc DipCons MSc MCMI (rtd) MCIPD FLI PPLI Chartered Landscape Architect Principal Landscape and Planning Officer For and on behalf of the Cranborne Chase AONB)

Dorset Council

There is no single body responsible for managing local flood risks in the UK. In many cases, flooding may be caused by a number of different sources which are managed by different Flood Risk Management Authorities.

The following Flood Risk Management Authorities and stakeholders are integral to flood risk management in Dorset.

  • Dorset Council as the Lead Local Flood Authority
  • Town and Parish Council
  • Environment Agency
  • Water Authorities – Wessex Water / South West Water
  • Highway Authorities – Dorset Council, Highways England
  • riparian owners
  • private drainage assets owners
  • property owners and residents

As a Lead Local Flood Authority, Dorset Council is responsible for managing flood risk from local sources such as ordinary watercourses (not main rivers), surface water and groundwater. We also ensure local flood incidents are investigated by the appropriate risk management authorities and regulate work on ordinary watercourses/culverts.

Our responsibilities in this area are set out in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and Flood Risk Regulations 2009.  The Flood Risk Management team who undertake these duties on behalf of Dorset Council can be contacted by emailing 

Local Flood Risk Management Strategy

An important duty for a LLFA is to produce and maintain a Local Flood Risk Management Strategy. These include flooding from surface water, groundwater, ‘ordinary watercourses’ (for example, ditches and streams), lakes and small reservoirs.

The Strategy sets out the vision for managing local flood risk across the County, and how we will seek to work with communities and partner organisations. The vision is “working together to manage local flood risk in Dorset so communities are resilient and prepared for flooding”This vision will be met through the following objectives:

  • understand flood risk across Dorset
  • manage the likelihood and impacts of flooding
  • help Dorset’s communities to manage their own flood risk
  • ensure flood risk is considered in local land development proposals
  • improve flood prediction, warning, response and flood recovery 

The Local Flood Risk Management Strategy is available in two forms:

Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment

The Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment is an initial screening exercise required under the Flood Risk Regulations 2009. It aims to review historical flooding and future (potential) flood risk and determine Flood Risk Areas in accordance with nationally specified criteria.

A  Preliminary flood risk assessment for Dorset has been prepared which assesses the local flood risk. Flood risk from main rivers, the sea and large reservoirs is the responsibility of the Environment Agency and is not considered in this report. 

© 2022

Who said the site is unsuitable?

‘There are none so blind as they that will not see!’


If a 43-acre industrial development is considered by Dorset Council to have a “HUGE” impact on the landscape, what word should they use to describe the harm caused to a ‘highly valued landscape’ and the setting of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) by something over four times bigger?

Long before the North Dairy Farm Application was submitted, the Council Planning Officers wrote to the developer, saying that the proposed site is in a ‘highly valued landscape’, in the setting of the AONB (a nationally designated area with the highest level of legal protection in England), within the impact zones of the Blackmoor Vale Commons and Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the  Rooksmoor Copse Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and the Alner Gorse Butterfly Reserve.  They highlighted that the Site impacts the settings of two highly protected Conservation Areas, including some 50 listed buildings and heritage assets.  It is also in an area of undulating ground, where solar development should be avoided. The Council had identified the proposed site as being in a ‘valued landscape’, highly sensitive to large-scale solar development. It is also in an area which is being considered as a National Park.

Despite the Council’s clear technical description of the area, the developers publicly presented a somewhat different assessment, saying in 2020: “On this particular site we are not impacting on any protected landscape, heritage or ecological designations” and are “not too impacted by flooding or visual impact.” 

What led the Applicant to express quite different views, to those outlined by the Council? Well, in part, the conclusions presented to them in three key assessments and reports they had commissioned to support their planning application. They were the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LIVA), the Heritage Assessment (HA) and the Flood Risk Assessment (FRA). As a result of the expert Officer’s consultation responses and the Save Hardy’s Vale group representations, it was established that all three assessments significantly underestimated the impact and harm the 190-acre solar proposal would cause to the area.

The Council refused to grant planning permission for a smaller (43-acre) solar development at Cruxton Farm because of the “huge” impact the industrial solar energy infrastructure would have on the surrounding landscape of the AONB.

North Dairy Farm is also within a landscape designated by the Local Authority as “valuable” and is in the ‘setting’ of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where ‘valued landscapes’ must also be “protected and enhanced”.

The AONB Unit note: “Where visible from the AONB, the surrounding landscape, which is often of significant landscape value, is an important element of the AONB’s natural beauty. Relevant local planning authorities must have regard for the landscape and visual impact of major development adjacent to or within close proximity of the AONB’s boundary.”

“Where the landscapes and landforms link and, visually or functionally, join the
surroundings to the AONB, proposals for change in the setting should have regard to the inter-relationship with the AONB and the landscape character and qualities.”

So, with tongue in cheek, and to help the Spetisbury Parishioner, who, according to the Daily Mail, recently considered it quite possible to hide a 190-acre solar power station behind a hedge, in a “dip in the landscape” – we offer this nautical comparison:

47 and a half flight decks!

A 190-acre solar power development site, with 37 three-metre high-security camera posts, a small town’s worth of inverter and transformer cabins, and an electricity substation, surrounded by an impenetrable security fence, would cover an area of productive farmland equivalent to 47 and a half Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft carrier flight decks! The deck in the image represent just 4 of the solar power station’s 190 acres.

If you really do know of an effective way to hide the deck of one of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group ships behind a hedge, or in a “dip”, then the Admiralty camouflage department would love to hear from you!

As Horatio said “I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes”

© 2023

Better than using greenfields!

France to require all large car parks to be covered by solar panels

Legislation approved by Senate will apply to existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles

Solar panels at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne, France.
Solar panels at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne. French politicians are also examining proposals to build large solar farms on empty land by motorways and railways as well as on farmland.

Alex Lawson Energy correspondent Wed 9 Nov 2022 18.08 GMT

All large car parks in France will be covered by solar panels under new legislation approved as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s renewable energy drive.

Legislation approved by the French Senate this week requires existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles to be covered by solar panels.

The owners of car parks with between 80 and 400 spaces have five years to comply with the measures, while operators of those with more than 400 will have just three years. At least half of the area of the larger sites must be covered by solar panels.

The French government believes the measure could generate up to 11 gigawatts of power.

Politicians had originally applied the bill to car parks larger than 2,500 sq metres before deciding to opt for car parking spaces.

French politicians are also examining proposals to build large solar farms on empty land by motorways and railways as well as on farmland.

The sight of parked cars under the shade of solar panels is not unfamiliar in France. Renewables Infrastructure Group, one of the UK’s largest specialist green energy investors, has invested in a large solar car park in Borgo on Corsica.

Macron has thrown his weight behind nuclear energy over the past year and in September announced plans to boost France’s renewable energy industry. He visited the country’s first offshore wind farm off the port of Saint-Nazaire off the west coast and hopes to speed up the build times of windfarms and solar parks.

The move comes as European nations examine their domestic energy supplies in the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Technical problems and maintenance on the powerhouse French nuclear fleet have exacerbated the problem while the national operator EDF was forced to cut its output in the summer when French rivers became too warm.

The government has also launched a communication campaign, “Every gesture counts”, encouraging individuals and industry to cut their energy usage, and the Eiffel Tower lights are being turned off more than an hour earlier.

The French government plans to spend €45bn shielding households and businesses from energy price shocks.

Separately on Wednesday, ScottishPower announced it would increase its five-year investment target by £400m to £10.4bn by 2025. The UK solar and wind farm developer hopes to generate 1,000 jobs in the next 12 months.

© 2022

See-through solar tech

Grätzel cells installed at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Grätzel cells were installed at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.  

Electricity-generating windows? Scientists design more efficient transparent solar panels

By Camille Bello  •  Updated: 12/11/2022 – 13:56

All that natural light flowing through your windows may one day do much more than brighten your mood.

Scientists in Switzerland have reached a new efficiency record for transparent solar cells, paving the way for electricity-generating windows that could help power our homes and devices.

Also known as Grätzel cells, dye-sensitised solar cells (DSCs) are a type of low-cost solar cell that uses photosensitised dye attached to the surface of a semiconductor to convert visible light into energy.

The previous versions of DSCs were largely reliant on direct sunlight, but scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have found a way to make transparent photosensitisers – molecules that can be activated by light – that can “adsorb” light across the entire visible light spectrum.

“Our findings pave the way for facile access to high-performance DSCs and offer promising prospects for applications as power supply and battery replacement for low-power electronic devices that use ambient light as their energy source,” wrote the authors of the study, published in the scientific journal Nature.

Transparent solar panels

DSCs are transparent, flexible, and can be manufactured in a wide range of colours for a relatively low cost. These see-through solar panels are already being used in skylights, greenhouses, and glass facades.

In 2012, the SwissTech Convention Center became the first application of DSCs technology in a public building.

© Richter - Dahl Rocha & Associates Architects SA.
The Swiss Tech Convention Center© Richter – Dahl Rocha & Associates Architects SA.

In 2017, the Copenhagen International School inaugurated its new building covered by approximately 12,000 blue-hued but transparent solar panels that use the same DSC technology. 

They provide around 300-megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity per year, meeting over half of the school’s annual energy needs.

See-through solar tech with 30% efficiency

But despite the fact that energy-generating windows have been on the market for a number of years, one recurring complaint was their limited capacity for generating electricity when compared to traditional solar cells.

The new breakthrough from the team at EPFL could soon help overcome that barrier.

Thanks to a new molecule design, they have increased the power conversion efficiency of DSCs – in other words, the share of the solar energy shining on them that is converted into usable electricity – reaching beyond 15 per cent in direct sunlight and up to 30 per cent in ambient light conditions.

For reference, commercial solar panels currently have an average efficiency of around 20 per cent.

The new generation DSCs also demonstrated “long-term operational stability” of at least 500 hours.

Materials that convert sunlight into electrical energy have a huge potential to fulfil the planet’s increasing need for cost-effective renewable energy technologies. 

Jens Cederskjold on Flickr
Copenhagen International School – Nordhavn – CopenhagenJens Cederskjold on Flickr

Glass windows hold an especially massive potential: Imagine if entire skyscrapers could be turned into vertical solar farms?

Back in 2017, a team at Michigan State University that developed a new type of solar concentrator creating solar energy when placed over a window deemed that transparent solar technologies could supply around 40 per cent of energy demand in the United States. 

It estimated that if combined with rooftop solar units – and the right storage technology – that share could rise to almost 100 per cent.

In Europe, solar power accounted for 12.2 per cent of the electricity generated in the EU this summer, the highest share on record.

Based on current trends, it has the potential to meet up to 20 per cent of the EU’s electricity demand by 2040, according to the.

Most of the planet’s solar energy currently goes uncaptured. What would things look like if every window around us could harvest it?

© 2022

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