Blog: The Turkish delight in a thousand solar panels

You go on holiday to relax, unwind and crucially, forget about work for a few blissful days in the sun. But I should have known better – I can never […]

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By Vicky Ellis

You go on holiday to relax, unwind and crucially, forget about work for a few blissful days in the sun. But I should have known better – I can never switch off from energy.

Arriving late at night to the small, bustling town of Fethiye on the southern coast of Turkey last week, it was only when the dawn came that I saw them: hundreds, even thousands of solar panels.

Gazing from the hillside view of my apartment, virtually every building or block of flats below (apart from the dozen or so silver-roofed mosques) was crowned by the somewhat ugly combo of a solar panel and a big metal drum or two.

It was as if a plague of square-eyed insects had descended on the town. I was intrigued. Back in Britain, despite the originally generous solar power Feed-in Tariff which the Government offers people to get solar panels, they are still a relative rarity. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places but I’ve never seen a whole town adorned by the things.

While I looked on, one man even risked a several-story-high plunge by ascending his red tiled rooftop to paint it white – presumably so it reflected more of the sun’s rays towards the device. There were clearly different brands competing for customers, going by the variety of names printed on the water drums.

It makes sense in a place where electricity prices are much higher, relatively speaking, when compared with average incomes. Turkish electricity prices are certainly lower than the UK’s while gas prices are around half as much, according to Eurostat. But as for income, the EU fact body’s most recent stats for Turkey (2006) show the median net income was 2,372 euros. The UK’s for that year was 19,403 euros.

Quizzing a burly but friendly taxi driver later that week, I wondered whether it was a government scheme which had seen so many people plump for ‘Solar Enerji’.

But no, it was the people who wanted cheaper water heating, he told me: “It’s free hot water. It would be crazy not to.”

From the sounds of it the powers that be actively prevent people from using solar power for electricity.

“We can only use them for hot water,” he said dismissively, suggesting the authorities want to keep cash flowing in from electricity prices, throwing in: “This Government sucks.”

Whether or not that’s the Turkish Government’s official line on solar power, it certainly puts the UK’s much-maligned energy officials into perspective. It seems the Turkish delight in solar panels stretches only as far as they are allowed to.