Oil giants switch to solar power on forecourt

GLASS PANELS on the roof of a service station near Bedford may spell the beginning of the end of the oil age.

A bright poster, with a picture of a sunflower, on the forecourt informs drivers: "This site uses energy generated by solar panels." Britain's first solar-powered filling station taps the sun for electricity to pump fuel into customers' cars.

It testifies to the commitment of BP, owners of the station near the intersection of the A6 and the Bedford bypass, to solar power. The company, which already has a tenth of the world market in tapping renewable energy sources, is investing $1bn over the next 12 years.

Not to be outdone, Shell is spending pounds 500m on alternative energy over the next five years, seeking a 10 per cent market share.

Shell, with the car giants Ford and Daimler Benz, is investigating hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The first mass-produced cars running on the non-polluting gas are expected to be in showrooms within five years. The race for the sun signals that renewable energy is coming of age, moving from the commune to the boardroom, from the beards to the suits. And the firms insist it makes good business sense.

Shell and BP have set up special companies to exploit renewable energy and both say this is one of the fastest growth areas. BP Solar's turnover rose 33 per cent last year.

Shell believes that many renewable sources are following "similar paths" to oil in its early years of development, and expects the market for solar cells to be worth $6bn by 2010. The company predicts that burning of oil and gas will peak by 2020 and that clean sources may provide half the world's energy by 2050.

Both companies believe that the prospects for renewable energy will steadily improve as the world clamps down on the pollution that causes global warming.

And their initiatives offer hope of faster action to tackle the climate change, as business tends to move faster than government when it sees the opportunity to make money.

"These are exciting times," said Jim Dawson, president of the newly-formed Shell International Renewables Company. "We are sure of the potential, now we have to make it work in practice."

Anna Stanford, renewable energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the Shell and BP initiatives were "very important in terms of the message they send".

BP has 17 solar-powered petrol stations around the world and is about to open its second British station in Milton Keynes. The sun provides only part of the power needed to run them, so they are also connected to mains power.

BP is supplying 500 solar power units for the athletes village at the Sydney Olympics, has provided lighting for the Ford Motor Company's factory at Bridgend, Wales, and is helping to build a "solar suburb" in the Netherlands.

Shell has equipped one of its oil rigs off Brunei with solar panels, is working with the Dutch government on solar buildings in the Netherlands and has established a series of "sun stations" which generate electricity from the sun and from burning wood in developing countries.

Drawing on its experience with oil platforms, the company is also investigating windmills in the North Sea in response to a government drive to encourage offshore wind power.

Shell is carrying out research into hydrogen, which produces only water as waste, to replace petrol. The project also involves Daimler Benz, Ford and Ballard Power Systems, a Californian company which produces hydrogen fuel cells.

Daimler and Ford have had prototype vehicles on the road, while the Californian company says it is "moving towards mass production" and plans to have hydrogen cars on sale within five years.

Meanwhile, a British company, Zevco Limited, has already built a hydrogen- powered London taxi and plans to put 150 vans powered by the gas on the road next year. The chief executive, Nicholas Abson, said the company could produce the vehicles at a "very low cost" and that a taxi would save pounds 20,000 in running costs over its lifetime because the fuel was so much cheaper.

He said there were no technical barriers to a hydrogen economy and no need for government subsidies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us