The first steps towards creating solar energy on the moon are being made, with a plan being put into effect to grow crystals in space that will make solar cells more efficient.
The technique, Molecular Beam Epitaxy, works a vacuum, and the only readily available, large enough vacuum is Space. To begin with the crystals are to be grown on the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013, but long term they could be grown on a large scale on the moon.
The crystals can improve solar cells’ efficiency by 60%, and the scientists involved have suggested that it would likely be a revolution which would have a greater impact than the introduction of mobile phones.
The crystals, ultra-thin semiconductor films, due to the fact that they are grown in space, would be extremely pure. Although it is possible to produce vacuums on Earth, they do not have the cleanliness necessary for this sort of work, they are always open to some sort of contamination. In space this will not be a problem; a lab could be created which will dock with the ISS, in which the crystals are to be grown. For extra protection, and to create what is known as an “ultra-high” vacuum, a shield will be used that will make the atoms disperse behind the mechanism in a cone shaped space.
At the moment this is an ostensibly Russian project, but other countries will be able to take advantage of the solar energy eventually produced providing it goes ahead. In fact the technique was invented many years ago, and is based on experiments which have already been carried out on US space shuttles during the 1990s. It was found, however, that the space shuttle created too much contamination, which is why it has been decided that using the ISS would be the only way to create a totally empty, pure environment in which to grow the crystals. The space station will also allow them to keep experimenting and producing crystals for longer periods of time than was possible when they were using space shuttles.
If everything goes well then eventually solar energy could be generated on the moon from the sun. The logistics of how it would all work and how the electricity would be taken back to Earth, or whether or not it would supply power for a base on the moon have not been specified. At the moment of course, this is all just ideas, science fiction, but that is how all scientific ideas start out before they become science fact. Of course hover boards also started out as science fiction… and looks to remain that way at the moment. Solar energy generated in space, however, looks as if it could become a reality relatively soon.
The Sun, of course, is the ultimate source of all the energy in the solar system. Without the Sun, the plants would not grow, which means that animals would not exist, which means we would have no way of getting a cheeseburger. Everyone knows that of course, but sometimes we forget that without energy from the sun even the fossil fuels would not have formed. In a sense, then, fossil fuels are also a form of solar energy. The point here of course is that they are not sustainable and they pollute the atmosphere with all sorts of harmful toxins when they burn.
The last thing you are probably expecting to read about now is toothbrushes. (Unless the picture gave you a clue!) Well, scientists are testing a solar powered toothbrush now. Of course toothbrushes have always been solar powered because we are solar powered. Without the sun food would not grow, without food we would not grow or function. So in a very real way, the energy we use to brush our teeth is solar energy. These new toothbrushes are then, we can say, doubly solar powered. They have little cells, like the ones they use for solar powered calculators.
Now, if it was just an electric toothbrush which is powered by solar energy, that would be impressive but not that big a deal. After all, just about anything has the potential to be solar powered. What is most impressive about these solar powered toothbrushes is that they do away with the need for toothpaste.
If you now have an image of beautiful rays of sunlight streaming down into the toothbrush and beaming into your mouth, so that you are literally cleaning your teeth with sunshine, then you are, quite obviously, wrong about that. Instead what happens is that the little solar panels transfer electrons to the head of the toothbrush, and these electrons form a reaction with the acid in your mouth, and this goes on to kill all the bacteria and plaque.
The toothbrush is being developed in Japan by Dr. Kunio Komiyama, who is now testing the product with volunteers. The design was actually produced fifteen years previously, but only now have they been able to make them. Successful tests on bacteria in the lab have already been carried out, showing that the toothbrushes do have the capability to do what they are supposed to do. When human subjects are introduced of course, anything can happen.
You can be sure though that we will be reporting on it if a toothbrush does hit the markets which is powered by solar energy. And if you happen to be a manufacturer of toothpaste, it might be time to start updating your resume.
It is reasonably well accepted now that we cannot rely on fossil fuels forever, or even all that much longer. It is called non-renewable energy for a good reason, namely we use it once and we cannot use it again. In a sense of course that is true of all energy, even the Sun is dying slowly. When the Sun dies, however, we are going to have bigger problems than everything in the freezer going off.
There is a lot of new research at the moment though which is looking to find viable alternatives to non-renewable energy sources. Recently a car was revealed which could run on sewage. You have to wonder what the exhaust fumes on that are going to be like though. Meanwhile scientists in Israel have been busy developing batteries that you can make out of potatoes. But surely it’s going to be even harder to get kids to eat their vegetables if they can also use them to charge their i-pod.
Closer to home, scientists at Southampton University have been developing an idea that most of us have actually had at one time or another. We know we need energy to move, and we know that we can create energy when we move. Bicycles run on human energy, as do footballs and trampolines. Well, what if we could capture all that energy that goes to no use, like walking down the street or playing with our pets. That is what the scientists in Southampton are developing, a special sort of ink which can be printed on clothes and then be able to capture 67 watts of energy with every step. If nothing else it would be a great motivational technique to get you to exercise: no you can’t have a cup of tea, not until you’ve generated enough power to boil the kettle!
Solar energy of course is still going to be an important part of all of this. NASA has recently developed a way to keep the solar panels on a rover on Mars clean, by zapping off the dust. This technology is due to be used on Earth for solar farms in dusty deserts such as in Arizona. Of course, barring a rather rapid and dramatic increase in global warming, we shouldn’t have any deserts to worry about in Britain for a while. There is another development which is being worked on however, which could benefit everyone. One of the main problems with solar power is that sometimes the weather isn’t good and even if it is, at night there is no sun at all. Well Japanese scientists are tackling this problem by designing a solar array which can be put into geostationary orbit, in space, allowing it access to the sun with nothing in the way for 24 hours every day. The energy would be beamed back in the form of microwaves. Unfortunately it won’t be tested until 2030. Until then we’ll have to make do with poo-powered cars, potato powered i-pods and an electric fashion sense!
At the opening of a solar farm in Sheffield, Deputy PM Nick Clegg compared the so-called “new energy revolution” to the industrial revolution, with Sheffield as the “epicentre” of both. The irony of that, as well as the irony that Sheffield is not known for its wonderful sunshine (and true to form, it was a cloudy day as he opened the site, at the height of summer) was not lost on him either.
The Solar Farm is situated on top of the roof of Sheffield University. The Hicks Building to be precise. Made up of seventy square metres of PV solar cells, this will be enough to power the building itself, as well as provide excess for the national grid, allowing them to take advantage of the feed-in-tariff scheme. They will not only be generating electricity however, but giving researchers the opportunity to research and experiment with the solar panels, to make them even more effective and efficient.
This is not the only green scheme being carried out in the city of Sheffield. The South Yorkshire Energy Centre teaches people about how to use renewable energy as well as the benefits of taking advantage of the feed-in-tariff. The centre shows the practicality of it by using the technology themselves to run the place; ground source heat pumps and solar thermal cells on the roof heat the water, while a wind turbine produces electricity.
Meanwhile on the other side of the city, one of the most distinctive feature of the skyline are the three wind turbines mounted to the roof on the Sheffield City College building. There really is a lot going on in Sheffield for renewable energy. A group formed by volunteers called Sheffield Renewables is also looking for financing to build hydro-electric plants nearby.
As always, of course, not everyone is happy about these schemes. Especially close by in the country, a lot of renewable energy schemes are opposed by people who fear for the damage which will be done to the visuals of the surroundings, as well as the disruption caused to wildlife and the noise that will be created. It is important, of course, to minimize these factors as much as possible when choosing a location for renewable energy.
Such objections have not been made about the solar farm located on top of Sheffield University, however, which looks set to be a successful operation all around. No doubt there will be more news of people and organizations making use of the feed-in-tariff in the months to come as well. At the moment, it does appear that Sheffield is one of the centres from which renewable energy will continue to expand.
Recently we reported that a government ban on local councils taking advantage of the feed-in-tariff scheme had been lifted. The program, which encourages people to have solar panels installed on their property by offering payment for any excess electricity which is then fed back into the national grid, was previously only open to private individuals. With it now being available to councils as well, it could create a nice little revenue stream for them, at the same time as reducing carbon emissions.
We can now report that Oxford is one of the first councils to express an interest in taking advantage of this. They have calculated that if they cover the roof of their Town Hall in solar panels, they should generate £10,000 every year. They are also looking at other facilities that they could place solar panels on to, which could raise their annual income from solar power to £100,000. This would be a huge bonus for them, not to mention the carbon emissions that would be saved.
The only cost outlay that will have to be made are the initial installation fees. This could pose a problem to Oxford Council because the grant from the government has been cut, meaning that it might take longer to get the funds together to install the solar panels. It has been stated, however, that it is not a question of if the project is going to go ahead. It is only a question of how long it will take to get going.
Meanwhile in Wales, solar thermal panels used to heat water have been installed on the council offices in Bridgend for four months and savings are already being made. There is a marked reduction in the quantity of energy needed from gas to heat the water in their building, which means a reduction in cost as well as carbon emissions.
The project was completed with funding from the programme Low Carbon Buildings. The results are on show in the entrance to the council offices, on a display which shows how much energy is being produced by the sun through the solar cells. Bridgend council are obviously proud of their efforts, pleased to be reducing their carbon footprint as well as showing others the way in terms of making use of renewable energy.
Indeed, it is likely that these two councils will be showing the way to other local authorities as regards the use of renewable energy as a means of generating funds. With the savings they will make on their own electricity bills, as well as the revenue they will incur as a result of the feed-in-tariff, councillors doing the math up and down the country are bound to come to the same conclusion as Oxford Council. That it should not be a matter of if they do this, only when.
One of Europe’s largest manufacturers of solar modules, Solar SE is planning to build a ground mounted solar power station in Cornwall, which will be the first of its kind in the UK. This venture will be undertaken in conjunction with the British company 35 Degrees. The result will be a 1.3MWp power station, capable of providing energy for 300 homes.
Planning permission has yet to be obtained for the proposed power plant, however with the great encouragement the government has been giving for more solar power to be generated in the UK, permission is likely to be obtained. 35 Degrees intends to build more solar power plants in the same South West region over a five year time period, which should reach an output power of 100 MWp altogether.
This comes on the back of the recent government scheme to get private individuals to make their residences into mini power stations themselves. The feed-in-tariff program encourages people to install solar cells on their roofs, for which they will receive money for any leftover electricity which is fed back into the national grid. As reported recently, local councils and farms are also looking to cash in on this initiative as well.
This solar power station to be build in Cornwall, however, is to be exclusively for the purpose of generating electricity. There are still government subsidies to be had, however, making it a potentially highly profitable enterprise. A local installation company will be hired to build the power plant, using the Black 280/11 monocrystalline modules made by Solar SE. It is to be built on the grounds of what used to be a tin-ore processing company, offering about three hectares of space. Once up and running, the plant should produce up to one and a quarter million kilowatt hours of power, which as mentioned is enough to power about 300 houses. The benefit to the environment will be in the cut of carbon dioxide emissions, which will be in the region of thousands of tons over 25 years.
This is likely to be only the beginning of such solar power projects, with the government subsidies on offer along with the tightening of supply of non-renewable energy and the concern about global warming creating the perfect conditions for such enterprises. Although British residents often like to complain about the weather and how little sun we get, in fact the amount of sunlight we receive is pretty much on a par with Germany. It is no surprise, however, that the first of these sorts of plants is to be built in Cornwall, as that is the area which on average receives the most amount of sunlight in the UK.
Despite the introduction of tractors, combine harvesters and any number of other technological developments which have increased their productivity, farms have still tended to maintain a traditional rural atmosphere. Well, that might all be about to change. Before long, you will probably be seeing barns with advanced technology on their roofs, namely solar panels.
Under the government’s feed-in-tariff scheme, anyone who installs solar panels on their property will be paid for any excess electricity that they generate which is fed into the national grid. So far this has mostly been used by private citizens on their place of residence. As reported, local councils have recently been allowed to get in on the act as well, and now farmers are being encouraged to take up the offer.
If you think this is going to ruin the nostalgia of the traditional countryside, then don’t blame the farmers. They need the money. Last year their income as a whole fell by 7% on the back of commodity prices, and by investing in this scheme they could earn thousands, or even tens of thousands of pounds a year, depending on the amount of solar panels installed. That is on top of the saving they will make on electricity bills, as the solar panels should be able to cater to all their electricity need. So far only forty farms have put in an application to be allowed to install solar panels, however that number is expected to rise in short order.
With the most amount of sunlight a year on average, Cornwall is well placed to become the hub of this scheme but it will be profitable everywhere, even the Northeast which in general has far more dreary weather. The advantage of this plan is that it does not require a farm to dedicate itself to generating solar power, as the so-called “solar farms” do, in fact it will not disrupt the normal operation of a farm at all. Once the solar panels are installed in fact, nothing more need be done, it will all take care of itself. This could turn out to provide a vital supply of income for farms which may not otherwise be able to survive.
Planning applications are likely to be turned down for many wind farms however, another source of renewable energy which could be used to produce much needed energy, and profits. Councils also have to consider the loss of tourism that could occur if places of natural beauty are considered to be ruined by the introduction of ugly wind turbines. These are likely to be more important in the north, where weather conditions are more conducive to this sort of renewable energy.
With the country’s need to produce more renewable energy, and the farmer’s need to make more money, overall it seems as if this is a perfect convergence of opportunities, but only time will tell. In the meantime, work on the installation of over one thousand solar panels on the farm which hosts the Glastonbury festival has recently begun, and with more farms set to follow suit, be prepared for the traditional countryside to start getting a bit of a science fiction air about it.
Within six years there should be a spray on the market that can make any surface into a solar power generating surface. It sounds like science-fiction, but in fact the technology is already available, it simply has to be made commercially viable before it is brought onto the market.
This thin-film solar technology can be sprayed or painted on, and it is transparent meaning that it can be put on windows as well as walls and roofs. It is also being suggested that it could be utilized by the first solar-powered airplane to fly for twenty four hours.
This is a nano-technology invention, and works by using cells that are approximately ten nanometres wide, which is a lot less than a human hair. They are expected to be able to generate a hundred Watts for every square metre. At the moment the efficiency is not very good, at only 20%, but they are hoping to up that before bringing it out commercially.
The “they” in this case are researchers at Leicester University as well as a Norwegian company called EnSol. This product has been tested with successful results, and marks a breakthrough in solar technology.
A lot of people would like to use solar energy but are put off by the bulky design of the solar panels. Well, this spray and paint could not be any less bulky, in fact it is invisible to the naked eye. With improved efficiency, this means that even in climates which are not hot, applying this technology over your house could be enough to provide most, if not all, of the power it needs to function. In fact, the applications are potentially endless. If it is being touted as being able to help power a plane, then a car, a motorbike, just about any moving vehicle could potentially make use of it. It will probably be some time before it is perfected, but it is certainly something to look forward to.
Indeed, in the future you may be able to buy roof tiles which have already been coated in this material, as well as windows. Or perhaps paint which also contains these nano sized solar cells so that when you paint the outside of your house, you will also be creating a mini power station.
Although, as mentioned, it is not very efficient yet, in theory it could be even more efficient than what is already available. The researchers are working at Leicester University, where they have experts in the field of nanotechnology so they should be able to perfect the system relatively quickly. Indeed, this will be one of the first truly beneficial uses for nanotechnology, as it could help to save the planet from the effects of global warming.
Whoever said that being environmentally friendly was more expensive? With a new scheme for local councils, introduced by the Coalition government, going green could actually end up reducing your council tax bill! Town Halls are now being allowed to install solar panels to their roofs, and the roofs of any public buildings (schools, hospitals, etc.) as well as wind turbines on any public property. This will work in accordance with the “feed-in tariff,” generating money as well as energy.
The feed-in tariff, which has already been operating for private households, now allows public property to be used as mini power stations. As well as generating energy for themselves, any left-over energy will be fed back into the national electricity grid, for which they will be properly compensated. It is estimated that £10,000 can be made a year from an normal-sized town hall having solar panels installed on their roof. While a well-placed wind-turbine could make as much as £160,000. Taking into account all the public buildings in one area, authorities would have the potential to earn up to £100 million every year.
This is good news not only for the planet, from which we can now generate energy in a much more gentle, unobtrusive way, but also for our wallets as this could lead to reductions in council tax. The feed-in tariff has actually been around for a while, but until now only private individuals could made use of it. In fact it is such a good deal that there are companies out there that will install solar panels to your property for free, just so that they can make use of the power generating tariff, which actually more than pays back the cost of installation in quite short order. This has led a lot of experts to advise against having your solar panel installed free, but rather to pay for it yourself so that you can make use of the money it generates yourself as well.
By potentially reducing council tax bills, however, this expansion of the scheme promises to benefit everybody. The concern in the past was that it would damage the business of already existing power companies, making electricity the traditional way, if councils could make money from green energy. With the massive savings on offer, however, the new government has decided to take more of the long-view and reverse that policy.
It remains to be seen, of course, how many councils will actually take up the offer and how successful it will prove to be. However the Chairman of the Environment Board on Local Council matters, Gary Porter, claims that there is much interest in the scheme as councils are always looking for ways to generate money without relying on council tax. Especially with the economy not being in its best shape at the moment, this could turn out to be an important initiative.
There is still concern, of course, about preserving the look of certain historic places. Some people have raised the issue of whether solar panels will be allowed on listed buildings or if wind turbines will be allowed in areas which are valued for their spectacular views. Again, what the outcome of these issues will be is yet to be seen.
Overall, though there is every indication that the expansion of this scheme, which is both profitable and good for the environment, will be successful both financially and environmentally.