This article was written by Steven Morris, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10th November 2010 16.30 UTC
If U2 or the Rolling Stones had been performing on his cow shed roof, the Glastonbury Festival supremo Michael Eavis could hardly have been more excited. “It’s fantastic. This is the best fun I’ve had here for ages,” he said. “We had to make a big statement – and that is what we’ve done.”
Eavis’ statement is an “array” of 1,116 solar panels installed on the roof of that cowshed – nicknamed the Mootel. To the sound of a musician called Harriet playing Here Comes The Sun on the vibraphone (deemed suitable because its aluminium bars resemble solar panels), Eavis today unveiled what is believed to be the biggest private solar electric generating system in the UK.
The photovoltaic (PV) modules will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40 homes annually. Power generated will be used, in the first instance, for Eavis’ Worthy Farm and any left over will be fed into the National Grid.
Wearing shorts on a chilly but perfectly blue Somerset day, Eavis said: “We had to make a major statement because we use so much power. This has brought us one big step closer to our goal of operating the farm as ecologically as possible.” The 1,500-acre site effectively turns into a small city at festival time with more than 200 diesel-powered generators hauled into place to make sure bands can play, food-and-drink suppliers can operate and the place is lit up at night.
Much has been done already. Eavis and his team have built reservoirs so water does not have to be brought on site and linked into local sewerage systems so human waste does not have to be carted off. They recycle all they can and encourage people not to drive if they can help it. But on a busy night they need up to 15 megawatts of power to make sure everything runs smoothly. Eavis felt they were still “losing the argument” so when he built the new cow shed seven years ago, he made sure its roof sloped gently southwards and was strong enough to support 20 tonnes of solar panels.
He has been impressed by how easy it has been. The bank lent him most of the money and the government’s feed-in tariff – a subsidy for small-scale renewable energy generation – has meant it makes economic sense to launch the project. He should earn £60,000 a year from the project.
Eavis’s cow shed, which enjoys a fine view of the pyramid stage – skeletal at this time of year – and Glastonbury Tor in the far distance, now generates up to 200 kilowatts of power. It should also save around 100 tonnes of carbon a year. He expects to make the money he has invested back in nine years.
Lucy Brooking Clark, green initiatives co-ordinator for the Glastonbury Festival, said it was an “amazing” day. “It feels like one big step for Glastonbury today. It’s been four or five years in the planning. We have to constantly look at how we can make the festival more sustainable – we have to keep raising the bar.”
Steve Riches, a planning engineer for Western Power Distribution, which makes sure the electricity generated on the roof reaches the National Grid, said it was a “symbolic day.”
Riches said: “I think other farmers and landowners will look at what Michael Eavis has done here and try to do the same. I think this is an important step.”
Next week, the Farming Futures project, which works to inform farmers about climate change, will be hosting a workshop with Eavis at Worthy Farm for others thinking of investing in solar panels. Bill Egan, who for the last 26 years has made sure Worthy Farm has all the power it needs for the festival (mainly by bringing in all those generators), was trying to work out whether he would still have a job for a few years to come.
However, festival is so energy-hungry though that he concluded he would. Using the power generated on the cow shed roof would probably allow only six temporary diesel generators to be lost. As Eavis bounded from interview to interview, Egan calculated that they would need between 50,000 and 100,000sq m of solar panels to be sure of generating enough electricity. “You’d lose a lot of camping space for that. I think my job is safe for a while.”
But he said they had already thought about how best to use the new source of electricity, perhaps using it to charge generators that are used for long periods, for example by crew members who are on site for months before and after the festival. “We’ll start getting those cables in now,” he said.
Phil Miller, the infrastructure manager for the site, said they were always on the look-out for new ways of cutting the festival’s carbon footprint. “I heard about an idea of using urine to generate power. That could work for us. Or what about putting solar panels on marquees? We have to keep trying.”
Eavis is already thinking about the future. “We’ve got the best festival in the world and the best solar power system in the country – so far. We’ve got to keep pushing, trying to do more.” And with that he was off to make sure the panels were performing properly – and the cows beneath them were as content as he was.
Farmers across the country, but especially in the south-west of England, are becoming more interested in the idea of supplementing their income through solar power.
Claire Wyatt, of Farming Futures, a government-funded organisation that helps farmers cope with and prepare for climate change, said farmers were “hungry” for information.
“I think it’s because the technology has improved, and so you no longer need the perfect site, but the feed-in tariff [under which landowners are paid for the energy they supply to the National Grid] has shown them it is economically valuable.”
It was standing-room only at an event held in Oxfordshire last week, and there are 200 people on a waiting list for a Farming Futures session at Glastonbury site Worthy Farm next week.
Companies that supply solar panels have started to organise seminars for farmers in the West Country – the Californian-based SunPower Corporation recently held well-attended events in Somerset.
One of the most eye-catching schemes revealed earlier this year was a £40m network of solar farms in Cornwall. If the network is built, it would triple the UK’s current solar generating capacity.
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Photo by Matt Cardy/ © 2010 Getty Images/PicApp