The first ground-mounted solar power station in Britain has now been given the go ahead by the council. You may recall that we reported on these plans last month, but that approval had not yet been granted by the council. Well now 35 Degrees, the company who will be building the solar power generator, can begin work.
The site, an abandoned tin mine, covers an area of 7.3 acres and once the five thousand solar panels have been set up it will be able to generate enough power for 300 households, at 1.34 kWh (kilowatt hours) annually. It will be the first of its kind in the UK, and it is the perfect place for it because Cornwall has, on average, the highest proportion of sunlight in the UK.
In fact 35 Degree’s managing director expects Cornwall to be the centre of a growth sector in the UK regarding renewable energy. Not just solar energy, but also other sorts of renewable energy such as wind power and tidal power. The Council sees this as being mutually beneficial as well, since it will create jobs, infrastructure and a new industry to the area. Investment in renewable energy in the region is expected to reach as much as £1 billion, which should prove to be very beneficial to the local economy.
Of course, one of the reasons for the upsurge in popularity in solar energy is the government’s feed-in tariff scheme. This program pays you, whether you are a business, a private individual, or even a public entity like a council, for the energy which you produce from solar panels. It is guaranteed for 25 years and over that period of time will more than pay for the costs of installation, it will actually make you a profit. That is why there has been a marked increase in the amount of solar cells being installed by people on their roofs, and why other companies are so interested in getting involved in it now.
The company which will be working with 35 Degrees to construct this solar farm is called Solon SE, which is a European company, and one of the leaders in the construction of PV cells. However the council is trying to ensure that all of the business ventures in this area will also make use of local firms, and for this project “Plug into the Sun,” which is a solar business in Cornwall, will also be involved.
Therefore, this venture is likely going to be good for business as well as good for the environment. In fact, that is true for the whole solar energy sector in this country at the moment, it is both profitable and highly beneficial for the environment. And as non-renewable energy costs naturally rise, the technology for renewable energy will naturally fall so the situation will continue to improve into the future. Right now, however, the best thing for everybody to do is to get solar panels installed, as they will pay for themselves in short order both from the feed-in tariff and the saving that will be made on household energy bills.
There have been reports recently, including on this site, about the possibility of government spending cuts affecting renewable energy schemes. Although nothing has been explicitly said by the government, reading between the lines, people have started to get the idea that this is a possibility. This has put some investors off putting money into solar energy in case government schemes are no longer there to help. This does not need to be the case with feed-in tariffs however, as they are guaranteed for at least 25 years.
There was a piece in a newspaper recently saying that in the fine print of the policy it stated that the tariff value could be altered at any time. Of course this would be worrying since, potentially, this means that it could be lowered to nothing or practically nothing, making the investment in solar panels more questionable. Fortunately, however, this is not really the case.
These sorts of policies can be confusing, so there is no need to stipulate that anyone was lying, but the policy does not really say that once you have signed up to get the feed-in tariff, that tariff can be altered whenever the government wants. It does say that it can be changed, but crucially, not once you have signed up. It can only be changed for people who have not yet taken it up. Once you have agreed on a rate it stays the same.
This means that the tariff rate could be changed in the spending review to be carried out by the government into all aspects of their budget, including renewable and solar energy. However it also means that if you are already making use of the feed-in tariffs, or if you get solar panels and start on a particular rate, that is the rate which will continue and will not be subject to change at all.
When seen in this light, it seems entirely reasonable, after all there are any number of reasons why the rate might need to be changed for new customers. The question arises therefore, why even put it in the contract when it has really nothing to do with that person’s agreement? Well, not because they are worried about the rate going down, as nobody would complain about getting a higher rate than other people. Instead, it is a defence against any complaints should the rate go up and the people on the old rate want to know why the new people getting involved are being paid more.
In a sense this is a reasonable complaint, however it would only be fair, if the rate was to be tracked so that everyone got the same regardless of when they signed up to the scheme, that if it was to be put down then everyone would have to get less as well. That is the sort of risk that few people would want to take over a 25 year period, with different governments and all sorts of policies, there would be no guarantees.
As it is, however, whatever rate you sign up with, you are guaranteed that rate whatever happens, so you know that it will be a good investment to get involved with solar energy and have PV cells installed on your property.
Of all the renewable energy, solar energy is probably the most popular. Not only in terms of the electricity it can generate to keep our electrical bills down, but for all the other things that it can do as well. Of course there is the solar powered calculator which has been around for a long time now. And as we reported on recently, solar powered toothbrushes that clean your teeth without needing toothpaste are currently being tested. Well now there are also solar powered devices for pest control, and the latest of these is the Solar Trap.
The Solar Trap is designed in order to use solar energy to power an adapted lamp which attracts flying pests like mosquitoes and moths, then instead of zapping them and killing them like a normal fly trap, once they get close enough a fan forces them down into a net. As it has only recently come out it is not in wide use yet, but since it is completely self-powered, meaning no battery changes required, it is probably going to prove popular.
From one device designed to use solar energy to stop things from flying, to another now which powers flight. Yes, there is a plane nearing the final stages of development which will be capable of flying for five years without stopping, because it is powered by solar energy. It is called the Solar Eagle and now would probably be a good time to mention that it will be an unmanned craft, which in fact will be used predominantly for spying purposes by the US military.
You might be wondering what it does at night, or whether it is fast enough to just fly around and keep up with the sun the whole time so that it never sees darkness. Well, unfortunately no, it just stores the energy it is going to need at night during the day. Also, it is designed much like a glider so that it does not need huge engines, however it can carry a payload of up to one thousand pounds.
Meanwhile in electronics, spray-on solar technology is in development could be used to power just about anything. There is talk now of it being utilized to power portable electronics like e-readers, but really whatever anyone wants to power it is probably possible to do with solar energy somehow. As fossil fuels run low and pollution continues to damage our environment, this solar powered technology is set to become increasingly important. The more devices that can be powered by the sun the better, and this will work well in conjunction with more and more people having solar panels installed on their roofs.
Overall, the developments in solar powered technology are very encouraging. From pest control devices to planes, the sun can now be put to use powering just about anything. The fundamental use however, the PV cells for your home, are still the most beneficial devices for ordinary people. All in all, it’s a great time to get involved with solar energy.
A church in Wokingham is putting plans in motion to get solar panels installed on their roof. This is part of a spate of renovations to be made at the church in an attempt to go more green, in order to reduce the amount of carbon emissions and save money. This continues the theme of more and more people and organisations going for solar energy as a part of the solution to the world’s energy problem.
Whether or not they can actually go ahead with the plans however is not up to them. The English Heritage would have to approve such a proposition as it could be argued that the solar panels will ruin the look of the church. Appearance of course is an on-going problem for renewable energy of various types. The wind turbines probably get the brunt of the complaints about views being ruined, but the look of solar panels has also been criticised by some, and used as a reason not to get them.
The question here becomes, what is more important, environmentally friendly energy resources and saving money or how something looks? Well, according to the council in the city of Sheffield, what is more important is that the look of a place is conserved, not energy.
In this case, somebody wanted to have solar panels installed on their roof, however their house fell within a conservation area. In this area the appearance and character is supposed to be preserved, and council members voted 5 to 3 against the solar panels being allowed to be installed. This got one council member from the Green Party quite upset, who said that issues to do with the actual environment, carbon emissions and energy should take precedence over mere cosmetic issues.
In fact, work has been done on the design of solar panels so as to not make this so much of an issue. Solar panels are now produced which do blend in with a tiled roof, so in many cases the choice need not be made between efficiency and appearance. In any case, all that is needed to appreciate the look of solar panels is a change in perspective. Look on them as a symbol of clean living, of helping the environment, of saving money the right way. Have your house wear it as a badge of honour and be proud. In many stories, heroes are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others; to install solar panels you have to sacrifice no more than, perhaps, the attractiveness of your roof, and that to help save the whole planet. It surely should not be a difficult decision to make.
Whether English Heritage will see it that way of course is yet to be seen, so the church in Wokingham may not get their solar energy – but at least they have seen the light. As have several churches in the UK which have got solar panels on their roofs already. In any case, nothing will stop the growing popularity of solar energy at the moment as it has never been more profitable, both in financial terms and environmentally, to have solar cells installed.
We have been reporting in recent weeks on a flurry of theoretical advances in solar energy technology. Most of these have had to do with nanotechnology, and promised improvements to existing designs in a matter of years, if not decades.
Although this research is clearly important as all efforts should be made to improve the technology as much as possible in whatever ways necessary, it is also important that improvements are made which can be applied to present production techniques. That way efficiency can be improved potentially in a matter of months rather than years.
This is exactly what has been carried out by IMEC, and presented at a recent conference in Spain, the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition which was held in Valencia. They exhibited a cell with increased efficiencies. It was not the highest efficiency recorded, but they were improvements which could be made using current production techniques. This is essential if they are to be able to be mass produced quickly.
They are therefore making sure that all of their advances can be applied to existing technology. They have set themselves certain targets which lead up to 2020. This is an important date as this is when the amount of energy produced by renewable sources is supposed to reach 20%. We are still a long way off that at the moment, but with each increase in efficiency the attractiveness of solar energy increases. To be able to achieve this the cost of production is also going to have to stay low, which is why it is so crucial that improvements are made that can be executed modifying current production techniques.
One example of an improvement they have made to solar cells is making contacts, which are currently silver screen printed, that are instead copper plated contacts. This has two benefits, firstly increasing efficiency, and secondly lowering costs. Copper is obviously cheaper than silver. In order to improve the texture of a cell, they have also come up with a laser ablation technique, and they have also developed a rear-side passivation technique.
At the moment, the efficiency of a silicon solar cell stands at about 19%, but that is not as bad as it sounds as the theoretical maximum possible is about 30%. The maximum actually achieved for silicon cells is about 25% but the only ones capable of doing this are too small to be manufactured for normal usage. For silicon cells of a large area, 20% is good and this is what is being aimed for by IMEC.
These are obviously not the cutting edge advancements in solar cell technology. However at the moment they are the most practical and will be soon a lot sooner than nanotechnology inventions. The modifications will be made relatively easily at production lines, and relatively quickly.
This is a great time to get involved in solar energy. Savings will be made to your electricity bill and to carbon dioxide emissions. The level of uptake in the UK of solar energy technology continues to increase.
It has been estimated that by 2016 the amount of energy produced by solar panels installed on roofs will be ten times greater than 2009 levels. With the cost of solar panels decreasing, new technology making them more efficient and the growth in popularity of feed-in tariff schemes with governments around the world, solar energy is set to explode.
The UK’s feed-in tariff program came into effect in April, and since then there has been a major increase in the number of photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on roofs across the country. The scheme actually makes it profitable to own solar panels, beyond the savings which you accrue on your energy bills. The advances in technology which have been taking place, reported extensively on this blog, are set to make PV cells more efficient, longer lasting and more powerful. And as with every advanced technology, it starts off expensive and becomes progressively cheaper.
All of this has added up to the prediction that the output from solar panels installed on roofs will increase from a mere 215 MW (megawatts) worldwide in 2009 to nearly 2.5 GW (gigawatts) in 2016. This of course will not be nearly enough energy to power the entire world, but it is heading in the right direction.
According to the research, carried out by Pike Research, this will make it a $4 billion growth industry. Another reason for this growth they cite the fact that solar panels are becoming more aesthetically appealing. Crystalline-silicon solar modules are designed so that they will blend in with the rooftops, facades and atria. On top of the financial benefits and the external attractiveness, of course there is also the desire of people to be “green.”
We are all beginning to realise that the energy consumption practices which we have been using for so long, dependent on fossil fuels, cannot continue forever. In fact, it cannot go on for very much longer at all. Non-renewable fuel costs will continue to rise, while renewable energy prices fall, making them not only better for the environment but also financially viable as well.
For this to come into full force then governments will have to continue to invest heavily in renewable energy schemes. In the UK there has been a question of whether this will continue to happen as the government has hinted that it may be looking to make cuts in this area. At the moment however, it is an excellent time to get involved in solar energy. The feed-in tariffs are in place and guaranteed to be in effect for 25 years after you make the installation. This is more than enough time to begin making money from the scheme.
Whether the predictions for 2016 will be prove to be accurate we will have to wait and see of course, but as of now, 2010 going into 2011, they look to be an excellent investment.
It seems that every week a new advance in solar energy has been brought about through the application of nanotechnology. The latest breakthrough is the production of nanotubes which are set up as antennae, directing light through a complicated process so that it becomes stronger at the surface of the solar cell.
The key to this technology is the use of “excitons.” These are basically electrons which have been raised to a higher level of excitement (by the light, the photons). They travel along the nanotubes to the surface of the solar panel in a sort of funnelling effect, coming together at the surface of the solar cell and intensifying the energy it receives. This means that the solar cell will in effect become more powerful. In fact it has been estimated that this procedure could make solar panels up to one hundred times more powerful.
Due to this funnelling effect, it means in terms of the manufacturing of solar cells, they could be made a lot smaller. This, in turn, means they will become easier to manufacture, there will be more flexibility on where and how they are installed and could mean they will cost less as well.
Since the technology is so small, it could be sprayed onto a cell, and although there has been no mention of this possibility in particular, presumably this means that existing PV cells could have this applied in order to have their power increased.
They are still some way from being able to build a device using this technology however, which could take up to two years. They will also be working on making it more efficient, as they aim to be able to generate multiple excitons per photon. This could mean that they will be able to reduce the amount of energy lost to under 1%, making them extremely efficient.
The team developing this substance comes from the prestigious MIT institute in the US. This is also where the solar cells which are able to repair themselves, based on the process that plants use, were also developed. We reported on this last week.
The advancements in nanotechnology in support of solar energy are coming thick and fast. There will undoubtedly be more developments in the near future which we will keep you up to date with. This is a very exciting time to be involved in solar energy. If you happen to be thinking that you want to get involved and get solar panels installed on your roof but don’t know if you should wait for the new technology, then our advice would be not to wait. There will always be better technology just around the corner but if you are waiting for the perfect technology you will be waiting a long time. Also, for concepts to go from research to commercial viability can take a long time, so even the developments which we report on here may not be put into practice for some time.
The solar cells we have right now however do a very good job, will save you money on your energy bill and help to save the planet from the over use of fossil fuels as well. It might seem that you are only one person so only have a very small part to play, but if the use of nanotechnology teaches us anything, it is that very small parts working together can produce remarkable results.
It is one of the most extensive solar cell projects in the country. Thirty seven roofs have now been equipped with solar cells in Solihull, near Birmingham. It is a project which has been put into practice by Solihull Community Housing (SCH) in order to benefit high rise buildings.
This is only the latest project by SCH in order to save money on energy bills by reducing the quantity of electricity produced from fossil fuels. From previous schemes they have already saved £28,000 and with the introduction of these new solar panels, that number will soon increase dramatically. Of course it should not be forgotten the benefit to the environment as well, with this new scheme alone set to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide produced by the buildings by over two thousand tonnes overall. This does not mean of course that the solar panels will be able to supply all the electricity that the buildings need, but it will lead to a lot of savings.
In fact the net monetary savings will be arriving sooner than they would otherwise, due to the fact that 75% of the costs from installation were covered by grants. One of these was from the Low Carbon Buildings Program, and a selection of other grants meant that the only outlay needed to install the photovoltaic cells was just 25% of the total cost.
Although individuals cannot normally apply for such grants, installing solar energy panels still leads to savings. There will be the reduction in energy bills once the solar panels have been installed on your property, as well as a further monetary benefit with the government’s feed-in tariff scheme. This scheme has been mentioned on many occasions in previous posts, but it is worth going over it again. It means that extra electricity that you generate, which you do not use, will be fed back into the national grid, and you will get paid for that. This will be in effect for at least 25 years, enough time for initial installation costs to be completely repaid, so that profit will then begin to be made.
Everyone is interested in saving the planet as well of course. Even large corporations, for which profit motivation sometimes outweighs everything else, need a planet on which to operate. Solar panels in this country at the moment, however, do not cause that tension. You do not need to choose between saving money and saving the planet. It does require a bit of long term thinking however, as the initial cost of installation is not insignificant. Savings will begin to be made immediately however, and eventually those savings will become profit. For this reason, there has never been a better time to have solar panels installed.
As the people behind the SCH project also point out, non-renewable fuel costs are set to keep rising, meaning that the savings from having solar panels will only continue to increase. As this can be done at the same time as reducing your carbon footprint, solar panels are one of the best investments you can make not only for you, but for generations to come.
The South West, and in particular Cornwall, is one of the major staging grounds for what Deputy PM Nick Clegg has called a “Green Revolution” that he is hoping will occur in the UK. Not only is this to make homes that are more green, but at the same time should produce a green economy, says Clegg. But with a spending review coming up, leaders in the industry are having to hope that the government’s actions will meet their words.
The ICE, Institute of Civil Engineers, South West branch has voiced concerns that the review of spending coming up could lead to green expenditure going down, which would be bad for the green economy in Cornwall. The reason Cornwall is so invested (literally and figuratively) in solar energy is that it has on average the most amount of annual sunlight in the UK. It also has an extensive coastline which is very good for tidal energy and wind energy generation. Solar energy is the most popular however, and there is even a solar farm being planned to be built, as we reported in a previous post.
Solar energy is also set to make normal farms money in the South West. Through the introduction of the feed-in tariff, for every unit of energy produced by solar panels installed on your property which is fed back into the national grid, you receive a certain amount of money. This means farms can install them on the roofs of their barns and houses, as can ordinary people and now local authorities. This is of course available all over the country, but due to the greater levels of sunlight in the South West, it is proving to be more popular there.
If there are cutbacks however, then an increase in green projects may be on hold. In fact, as we reported recently, investors are already waiting before putting more money into green schemes until after they see what the government is going to do. This comes after whisperings that certain green initiatives may receive less funding from the government.
This does not affect the feed-in tariff however, the government has guaranteed that those who install solar panels will receive the benefits for at least 25 years. This aspect of the “Green Revolution” will hold true unless, of course, there is an actual revolution in that time. Whether the new Renewable Heat Incentive plan will actually come to fruition is more of a concern, but this does not really affect any solar panel investment.
The ICE is looking for more investment in solar energy from the government however. They want more funding initiatives and more grants to encourage an increased uptake of solar cell installations both domestically and commercially. Although solar panels do end up saving you money on your energy bill, and now make you money with the feed-in tariff, the cost of installation is too much for some people to afford.
We will have to wait and see what the government does, but so far the feed-in tariff scheme has been working well, with a massive increase in the number of people having solar panels installed in the UK. There is still a long way to go though, as Germany recently announced that their solar energy production for a day was over 50% of the energy produced by their 17 nuclear power stations. This is the highest level of solar energy production in Europe, and they are planning to eventually be able to produce 100% of their energy from green technologies. Seen from that perspective, the “Revolution” that we are undertaking looks more like a slight bend in the road, but it is yet to be seen how far the government is willing to turn.
The research and developments being made in the field of solar energy must be some of the most exciting being carried out anywhere on (or off) the planet. The efficiency of solar cells is at the moment quite low, but research being carried out all over the world is looking to improve it. Solar cells can already reduce your energy bill substantially, as well as making you money with the government’s feed-in tariff initiative, but as efficiency increases there will be even more savings to be made.
There is amazing research being done in nanotechnology, as well as plans to grow crystals in space to improve the efficiency of solar cells. And now a way has been developed to use living cells to create solar energy. This was touched on in the previous post, in which we reported on research being carried out to produce solar cells with an indefinite life span. This is to be done by mimicking the behaviour of plants to eliminate solar damage. The Sun is the ultimate source of all energy in the solar system, but as we know from having to put sun block on if we are going to be out in the sun for too long, it can also be damaging. Plants do not have the capability to protect themselves and cannot avoid such damage, but they are able to constantly repair themselves by coming apart and reforming at the molecular level. With the use of nanotechnology, this is now possible with man-made devices as well.
This requires the use of special proteins, and this is another innovation being taken up by the solar energy research community. Instead of using silicon to convert solar energy into electrical energy, proteins from algae and jellyfish are now being used instead. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) extracted from the jellyfish or algae, when exposed to UV light, absorb the photons and emits oxygen, protons and electrons. The algae would use these in order to turn carbon dioxide into natural compounds, but researchers can use it for another application. Namely, since electricity is made up of flowing electrons, the electrons that the algae produces, when placed on a chip, create electricity.
This is still at the early stages of development, and efficiency is currently still quite low, but should prove to be a far cheaper and better way of creating solar energy. It has even been suggested that these “algae cells” could generate electricity at sea, creating a vast amount of energy.
The use of organic material combined with nanotechnology is really the cutting edge of science at the moment, and with on-going research attempting to increase the efficiency of solar cells, there could be even more exciting developments just around the corner. When they will become commercially viable is another matter of course, so we the solar cells we have at the moment will have to do for now, and they do a good job. And he more popular solar cells become, the more incentive there will be to do more research in order to make them even better.