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It is alleged that solar energy facilities in Spain have been using diesel generators to produce electricity

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Spanish nighttime solar energy fraud ‘unlikely in UK’

Ecologist

16th April, 2010

In the month that renewable energy incentives are introduced in the UK, Spanish authorities are investigating companies who claim to have produced solar energy at night

Authorities in Spain have launched an investigation into solar energy installations that have been selling electricity apparently generated at night. 

The Spanish government called on the National Energy Commission (CNE) to look into the matter after a newspaper investigation discovered irregularities in the times at which solar energy was being generated. 

Spanish newspaper El Mundo found that between November and January, 4500 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar energy were sold to the electricity grid between midnight and seven in the morning.

It has been suggested that some plants in the regions of Castilla-La-Mancha, Canarias and Andalucía have been using diesel generators connected to their solar panel arrays to illegally benefit from government subsidies.

Rigorous enforcement needed

The Spanish Solar Industry Association (ASIF) immediately called for the ‘rigorous enforcement of the law against anyone responsible for illicit activities’.

‘This is very simple if solar facilities are claiming to have produced electricity at night,’ a spokesperson for ASIF said. 

In the UK, Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot has argued the newly introduced UK Feed-in Tariff (FIT) could also be susceptible to fraud.

‘By buying electricity for 7p and selling it for 44p (if you sell power to the grid rather than using it yourself, you get an extra 3p), they'll make a 600 per cent profit,’ he has said, implying that generators may similarly hijack solar installations. 

‘Unlikely in UK’

But the CEO of the UK’s largest solar company said that the UK renewables industry is sufficiently regulated and that fraud would be ‘extremely unlikely’.

‘Systems which are owned by investors have to have clear and rigorous performance metrics so such irregularity would be quickly uncovered,’ said Derry Newman of Solar Century. 

‘The UK does not have the desert, unpopulated areas that Spain has and noise and fumes would be quickly detected,’ he added. 

The energy regulator OFGEM also played down fears that similar fraud could happen in the UK, saying that ‘suppliers are required to undertake certain measures to prevent fraud by generators and this is supplemented by independent accreditation and auditing.’

‘OFGEM believes this represents a robust framework that will help to minimise fraud. We will of course keep the framework under review as the FITs scheme progresses,’ said a spokesperson for the energy regulator.

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