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Big Ben May Get a Solar Face Lift

Sarah Lozanova | Thursday March 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments

UK carbon reduction goal In an effort by the U.K. Parliament to reach the ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 34 percent by 2020, the House of Commons is now looking to the parliamentary estate and considering installing solar panels on the face of Big Ben in London. Parliamentary passholders were submitting ideas for reducing carbon emissions and boosting energy efficiency on the estate, when the solar idea was suggested.

Big Ben, officially renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012, was constructed in 1859 and contains 6.9-meter clocks on a 96-meter tower. It is located on the north end of the Palace of Westminster and has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom, particularly in visual media and the chimes in audio media. It is a popular landmark in the United Kingdom, thus installing solar panels would be an iconic gesture.

Other energy efficiency estate plans include insulating the Palace of Westminster roof with sheep wool — a material that has been found to significantly reduce heat loss, while preventing leaks. Several green initiatives are underway this year, such as installing voltage optimization technology to mitigate wasted energy, identifying energy efficiency improvements for all estate buildings, and replacing light bulbs with LEDs. Parliament has already reduced waste water and increased recycling.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 set legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets for the United Kingdom of at least a 34 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The government has been on track to meet its first three carbon budgets, says Energy Secretary Ed Davey, which is very impressive given the scope of the goal. Such a significant carbon reduction initiative is a huge task, which has been partially obscured by sluggish economic growth.

“The U.K. takes its obligations under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050 extremely seriously,” Davey said in a statement. “As the world’s most prominent climate scientists have said, we must not rest on our laurels if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.”

solar energyThe government will have to increase the speed of its emissions-reduction efforts by a factor of four to continue to meet future targets, which is an ambitious goal. The United Kingdom has committed to decarbonizing its energy supply, which is vital given that  the sector generated an estimated 40 percent of the country’s emissions in 2012. The United Kingdom has become a leader in offshore wind energy production to assist in this goal.

Overall, solar energy growth in 2014 is expected to be strong in the United Kingdom, at an estimated 2.5 GW of additional capacity, compared to an estimated 6 GW in the U.S. This could make the United Kingdom the leading European solar photovoltaic installer during 2014, which is a major feat. Several factors shaping the solar market are lower solar panel costs, a slow German market and high acceptance rates for large photovoltaic projects.

This potentially iconic solar installation on Big Ben may in fact be frosting on the cake for a larger greenhouse gas reduction movement in the United Kingdom.

Image credit: Flickr/Rachel Hobday and  kevinthoule

Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.


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  • scotto

    Big Ben is actually the bell, not the clock tower. Big Ben wasn’t renamed.

  • Jigbon

    Here in Australia our target is 5% reduction above 2000 emissions level. What an embarrassment we are.