In a way of course, all trees are solar trees. They grow because of solar energy, as all trees do. Actually, perhaps it is ironic then that the solar trees being talked about here were not grown with solar energy, but rather use solar energy in order to produce electrical energy.
Of all the kinds of renewable energy, many people see solar energy as the best kind. It is scalable, meaning that it can be employed on a large scale, for example as a solar farm in the desert, or at an abandoned tin mine as they are in Cornwall. Or on a small scale, meaning that private individuals can feasibly have it installed on their roofs. Actually, as well as being scalable in that way, you can also say that large panels can be produced, as can very small particles to produce solar energy, in the form of nanotechnology. In other words, one of the best things about solar energy is its versatility.
It has the same problem that most renewable energy technology has however, which is that many people consider it to be ugly. Permission to have solar panels on certain roofs has been denied for this reason. And while certain high profile cases are going ahead in spite of this issue, for example on a house owned by Prince Charles, as well of course as the house owned by President Obama, the White House, there are people who would prefer that they could fit in better aesthetically. One of these places where it is important to the people in charge that they do not spoil the look of the place is Cambridge University.
As Cambridge is one of the oldest, and most prestigious universities in England, they do not want that special old-fashioned look ruined by modern solar panels, no matter how much money and pollution they may save. Fortunately, however, there is a solution. You guessed it, solar trees. As already mentioned, these are not trees powered by solar energy. Instead, they are trees that use solar energy to create electricity. Actually, strictly speaking, they are not trees at all. They are man made artifices made to look like trees. The important part however, is that they have solar panels on their “leaves” and they both look nice and create solar energy.
This is the sort of innovation which is common when it comes to solar energy. It is the versatility which it has that makes it one of the most popular forms of renewable energy. With the spray-on technology which is under development, it will soon not be necessary to have visible solar panels at all. An invisible thin-film of solar panels will, in the near future, be able to be sprayed onto just about any surface to produce solar energy. The applications will then be nearly limitless.
Until then however, the best option for private individuals is still to have PV panels installed on their roofs. Or of course have solar trees planted in the garden. Although you probably won’t find any seeds at your local garden centre.
In a combination of public funding, private funding and money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), £10 million has been made available for houses in Manchester to be made more green. As well as solar energy, there will also be benefits supplied by energy efficient boilers, wood chip fuel and thermal cladding.
It is estimated that these improvements will cut energy bills by as much as £20 million, which translates to over £5,000 per household. Over the life of the project, it is also estimated that it will save one hundred thousand tonnes of carbon emissions. The Energy Saving Trust Chief Executive points out that these are the sorts of changes which will have to be carried out all over the country in the coming years.
Of course as always with projects such as these, it is not only the families in question which are intended to be benefited, it is the economy as a whole. The investment is set to generate and sustain a number of jobs in the area. This is the key to solar energy and all other forms of renewable energy actually getting widely utilised, making it economically advantageous.
This is exactly what the feed-in tariff has done with solar energy in fact. When it was introduced in April this year, there was an almost instantaneous increase in the uptake of solar panels. It wasn’t long before the amount of people having solar panels installed was more than doubling in a month. The reason is not because people started worrying about the environment more, or global warming. The reason was because the feed-in tariff made having solar panels installed more beneficial financially. It is still a good deal of course without the government scheme, since it naturally leads to cuts in your energy bill. There is an expense in having them installed in the first place however, and this is something which has to be considered as well. The feed-in tariff made the advantages outweigh the initial outlay for more people though, which is why there continues to be more people having solar cells installed.
That is not to say of course that the only reason people go for renewable energy is because it is cheaper. The majority of people do care about the environment and would like to be able to consume energy without harming the planet at all. The problem is though, particularly in these tough economic times, it has to make financial sense as well. This is not greed or selfishness, after all people have families to feed and clothe, and that is also important. There are undoubtedly a lot of things most people would like to do in order to help in many ways, but first of all they have to take care of themselves and their families.
With schemes such as this one in Manchester, as well as the feed-in tariff which is accessible everywhere, a choice such as this does not have to be made. Solar energy, and other types of renewable energy, are becoming the best option financially as well as environmentally.
A Planning Support Division has been launched by Clean Energy Yorkshire. The aim of the project is to help people owning listed buildings, or living in a conservation area, to get planning permission to have solar panels installed.
As we have remarked before, there is often an issue for buildings that are considered to be of high historical value, or that are situated in an area which wishes to preserve a certain look, with getting solar panels installed. The people living there may very much wish to get involved with solar energy, but because of restrictions on additions to their building they are unable to get planning permission. Even worse, some people do not even try because they know they are living in such an area or in a listed building and don’t think they have any chance of getting the planning permission. It is for these people that the new division has been set up.
This Planning Support Division has experts in planning laws and have experience working with those in charge of granting or denying planning permission. They hope to be able to offer solutions in the majority of cases. For example in a recent case, the occupant of a building wished to have PV panels installed but it was considered that the visual impact would be too great to allow. Therefore, instead of trying to get the solar panels installed, they were advised to apply to have solar tiles installed instead. The solar tiles blended in much better with the roof, and this was allowed.
Therefore, if you do live in an area where planning permission is rarely granted for modern devices but would like to take advantage of solar energy, there may be some way for you to make it work. Solar tiles will work in many cases, but there may be other solutions to the problem. For example there might be a largely unseen portion of the roof which the solar cells can be attached to, or any number of other solutions.
Perhaps the problem is not with getting planning permission from the council, but that either you or your partner is worried about the unsightliness of solar panels. Again, the same solutions are probably available. If you contact a company which installs solar panels they will be able to take you through the various options which are available.
In the vast majority of cases there will be something which can be done to help you satisfy your solar energy needs without it being a problem, visually. As we reported recently, Prince Charles is getting solar panels installed on a royal house, and the President of the US is getting solar panes installed on the White House.
Now is an excellent time to get into solar energy, as the feed-in tariffs offered by the government are staying at current rates, for now. So whatever your concerns about getting solar panels installed, call the experts and they will most likely be able to help.
We have been reporting on the potential consequences of the spending review on the government’s feed-in tariff scheme for several weeks now, but can now happily reveal that it has survived the cutbacks. That is not to say, however, that it was as strong an announcement as it could have been, but the feed-in tariff is safe for now.
For those who have already had solar panels installed, they were never in danger of losing out in the spending review as their agreement is guaranteed for at least twenty five years. And the spending review has kept the same rate, of 41.3 pence for every unit of electricity. That is, at least for now. We have been saying that the best time to get involved in solar energy is right now, before the spending review, as anything could change after that. Well, now is still the best time to take advantage of the feed-in tariff by having PV cells installed. The rate has been kept the same for now, but in 2012 there will be another review at which there are plans to change the focus of feed-in tariffs.
What this change of focus will mean has not been disclosed, however we do know that it is intended to save £40 million in 2014 to 2015. There has been some speculation that it could be done by reducing rates after you have installed a certain amount of solar cells. This will prevent people from installing more and more solar panels on their property to make proportionally more money. Having more solar panels will still be of benefit, since the more panels, the more electricity produced, and the more money. It just means that each individual panel will not be earning as much overall.
Another possibility is that rates will be reduced for at least one of the renewable energy options. It does not just apply to solar energy of course, the feed-in tariff can also be used for wind energy or any other form of renewable energy. No indication has been given as to which rates might be reduced for, but solar energy has proven to be the most popular. If they wanted people to invest more in other kinds of renewable energy then they may well lower the rates for solar energy.
This all means, basically, that this is still the best time to get in with solar energy. All the more so because the review date is not fixed, and can be moved up if and when certain criteria are met. In other words, if the uptake is high, then the review could be made earlier and rates reduced. They are clearly eager not to spend too much on renewable energy and will be monitoring the situation closely. The sooner you are able to get solar panels installed therefore, the more sure you will be able to be of receiving the highest rates as part of the feed-in tariff.
Swansea University, in partnership with Tata Steel, is to produce steel roofs which have the capability of converting solar energy into electrical energy. To do this, thin film spray on technology is going to be used so that a thin layer of PV cells can be added to the steel, making them generate electricity from the Sun.
This will make it easy for offices, warehouses and a wide variety of other buildings to become energy efficient, and you won’t even be able to tell from the outside. In fact in the UK there is above 4 billion sq metres of facades and roofs which have the ability to use solar panels. It would be a tall order to convert all of those, however if steel roofs begin to come with PV cells as standard, that would mean that eventually all of this kind of roof would become energy efficient.
That is still a long way off of course, but this is a positive first step. Actually, we have reported on the benefits of this spray on technology before and the variety of ways that it could be used. Another clear advantage of integrating it into steel is that it could be used on the roofs of lorries and cars as well. In fact, in an energy saving double whammy, the electrical energy produced in this way could split the hydrogen from water in a hydrogen fuel cell car. In this way, a car could be truly solar powered. Not just taking over the duties of a battery, for the radio and other electrical equipment, but actually making the car go.
Another recent report on this blog was on a plane that is to be solar powered and will be able to stay in the air for years at a time because there will be no need to refuel. The same will be potentially true for all vehicles eventually, although this will have to make commercial sense as well. This is one of the best things about solar energy at the moment though, due to all of the money which is being put into it, it is becoming more and more appealing financially. Technology is becoming cheaper and more efficient. More people are getting involved in solar energy.
Of course in Britain, where sunshine is not exactly constant or often intense, it would be natural to question how much benefit solar energy technologies can have. It is one of the reasons why Cornwall is one of the epicentres for solar energy, because it has the most sun in the UK on average. However this does not mean that the rest of the UK cannot get involved. The material which is under development at Swansea University for the steel roofs is being designed to be efficient at capturing radiation from low light conditions.
So wherever you are in the UK, you will be able to benefit from this solar energy breakthrough. It is practical solar energy research which will be able to be put into effect very soon.
Following the recent approval given for the UK’s first solar farm to be built in Cornwall, another solar energy company has now submitted plans to build an even bigger solar farm in Cambridgeshire. The ground-mounted solar plant in Cornwall is set to power three hundred homes, while the plant in Cambridgeshire will be able to provide power to four times as many, twelve hundred homes.
At the moment it is still in the early stages. The company involved, Vogt Solar, is going to be holding a meeting with residents this week to listen to their comments and any concerns they may have before proceeding with trying to get planning permission. There are of course many things to consider, but there is a good climate (no pun intended) for solar energy technology to be put to use at the moment, with the government needing a certain reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. On top of that, any project of this size is bound to create jobs, in fact that is one of the aspects which the company is promising, and this is always welcome, but especially in difficult times economically such as these.
In recent months there has been an increased interest in solar energy projects, not least because of the feed-in tariff introduced by the government. This has led to many more people having solar panels installed on their roofs as the scheme pays money for all energy which is produced, put back into the national energy grid. This is money on top of the savings which you make on household energy bills. Why doesn’t everyone get them installed? Well, there is a fee for having them installed of course, and it takes some time for the savings to outdo these costs.
It means that solar panels are an excellent investment, whether that be on a large scale or a small scale. Indeed it is even possible for local councils to make use of the scheme now, and several already have plans to put this into effect. Once the initial outlay has been made there will be at least 25 years worth of money-making which will be available. This might be about to change however, as the government’s spending review may lead to a cut back in the feed-in tariff. This will not affect anyone who is already making use of the government scheme however as it is guaranteed for at least 25 years as part of the deal.
Despite the current uncertainty however, it is a good sign that investment continues to be made in solar energy. This is an important time for plans to be made. With only ten years to make the necessary reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in order to comply with commitments made by the government, these sorts of projects are extremely important. And one of the best things about solar energy is that everyone can get involved, you don’t have to wait for big solar power stations to be built, you can have your own mini power station on your roof! This is the best time to get involved, right now.
Presently, most photovoltaic cells are made from silicon. That is because organic materials, such as carbon, which had been tried, proved to be highly inefficient. To the extent that they would only convert one percent of the sun’s energy to electrical energy that could be used. However, a breakthrough by a university in the US has led to carbon based PV cells becoming far more effective. For the consumer, the major upside to this will be that solar cells made from organic material would be much cheaper.
The key is a substance called rubrene. It is a crystal which is a natural semiconductor, and when the researchers at the university of Rutgers experimented with it, they found that excitons travel many times further through it than they do through other types of organic semiconductors that had been tested previously. In fact, were far closer to the performance of substances currently being used in solar panels such as gallium and silicon.
This has a way of becoming very technical and confusing, but just to be clear, an exciton is basically a very small particle (even by “particle” standards) which is produced, and shoots off, when photons (light particles) are absorbed by semiconducting materials. In short, they are the things which make it possible for materials to convert solar energy into electrical energy. And the better they work in a material, the further they travel, the better the material will be at converting solar energy.
One of the reasons this is good news, that the materials can be produced at lower costs, is that organic semiconductors have the capacity to be produced in the form of large plastic sheets, which will make the manufacturing cost go down. This could turn out to be good news not just for those interested in the development of solar energy, but also for other products, for example video displays.
And this of course is just the latest breakthrough in solar energy technology. There have been many recent advancements, some more practical, some more pie in the sky. Quite literally in one case in fact, with the plan to grow crystals in the vacuum of space and even eventually on the moon in the future in order to get the best results. This is of course a very important, and also fascinating field of research. It brings together the most advanced technology, including nano-technology, with important global issues, namely anthropogenic global warming. So anything which makes it cheaper and more attractive to private individuals as well as larger companies who might be looking into building solar farms, is all very welcome.
This most recent development is only in its early stages and there probably won’t be anything on the market for some time now. That goes for most of the projects in development at the moment, and while it’s good to be making plans for the future it is also important that as many people as possible get involved right now. The more popular solar energy becomes, the more viable it will become as a commercial project, the more research will be done into it and the lower prices will become to produce it. This, of course, will attract even more people. The future is looking bright for solar energy.
With the introduction of two thin-film cells, General Electric has taken a big step into solar energy, going to show just how important the market is becoming.
The thin-film cells improve the efficiency of current solar cells and also promise to make them more financially viable, meaning that more people should be able to afford to get them installed in the near future. This is in fact the major stumbling block for a lot of people, the cost of the initial installation. With the savings that will be made on energy bills once the panels have been installed, not to mention the money-generating feed-in tariff program, the initial costs are the only thing that prevent most people from getting them installed.
Any reduction in the cost of the solar panels therefore is likely to see a large increase in the number of people who make a commitment to solar energy. It is pretty much universally known by now that fossil fuels cannot last forever, especially at a price that makes them cost-effective. Meanwhile, as we continue to report, the technology for solar energy continues to be improved in terms of its efficiency as well as its power output, and of course at the same time costs are being lowered.
And this is all happening very fast. Indeed, the new development by GE is already being put into production, in partnership with Prime Star Solar and the technology should be out on the market as early as next year. In addition, GE has also signed a deal with Japanese firm Solar Frontier to develop thin film cells made from copper, indium, gallium and diselenide (CIGS cells).
But they have not stopped there, showing their true commitment to solar energy. One of the problems with large solar farms is that the output cannot be properly controlled, meaning that they cannot really operate in the same way as a normal power plant. Well, GE are changing all of that with the introduction of the Brilliance Solar Inverter. By using this, the output from a solar power plant will be able to be controlled, making solar farms more viable as an energy generator.
This is one of the great things about solar energy, it works at a very large scale and on a very small scale. Power can be generated by households individually, or power can be generated collectively at a solar energy farm. The technology can be very small, with thin-film devices and it can even use nano-technology, which is currently in development in various places around the world. And it is going towards solving the biggest problems that we have, that of making sure our planet remain inhabitable and is not destroyed by pollutants.
Whichever way you look at it therefore, environmentally, scientifically or financially, solar energy is rapidly coming into its own as one of the most important and beneficial markets on the planet. And one of the best things about it is that anyone can get involved, saving money and saving the Earth.
Environmentalism has been described by some as a form of religion. Well, if so, then it seems that the old religions are being converted. We reported recently on a church which wanted to have solar panels installed but was denied planning rights because it was considered that it would destroy the look of the building. Now, however, a church in Gloucestershire is producing all of its energy from green sources.
The church in question is also very old. In fact, it is grade one listed, but this has not prevented it from being able to make use of solar energy by having PV cells installed on its roof. The church is located in the village of Withington, the church of St Michael and All Angels.
The solar panels account for all of the electrical needs which the church has. This is done with a total of twenty-four panels, and means that all of its electricity is provided by solar energy. In terms of heating, they have a new boiler which runs on pellets. This means that no gas is required, and it doesn’t need additional electricity to run the boiler.
This plan has recently been completed but was originated two years ago. Work was done on the whole on a pro bono basis by one of the congregation who works for an asset consultancy firm and is the head of their sustainability department.
This sort of generosity cannot be delivered to everyone of course, however the costs that would normally be applied, and which private individuals would have to deal with, over time actually take care of themselves. This is due not only to the savings on your electricity bill which you will receive as a result of having solar energy panels installed, but also because of the feed-in-tariff scheme currently in operation.
What people should really learn from this project however is that it is not necessary to take cosmetic considerations into account for these projects. There are certain people who are fighting to get solar panels installed on their roofs so that they can make use of solar energy, but they are denied this opportunity by planning committees who say that solar panels are too ugly. However, church in question is nearly a thousand years old and is a listed building, and yet it was allowed planning permission to have solar panels installed. Similarly, as we reported only last week, President Obama and Prince Charles have had solar panels installed on their property, and the former is one of the most iconic buildings in the world.
Not so many people take inspiration from religion any more, and environmentalists tend not to like the tag. However nobody can deny that religions have produced great leaders throughout the ages, and it does have the power to inspire us to do the right thing. Perhaps, then, this is a case of religions old and new coming together and giving inspiration even in our modern age, to overlook the superficial and do the right thing for everybody.
Celebrity endorsement can at times be quite ridiculous. When an actor who plays a doctor on TV gives support to a certain medicine, that doesn’t tell us anything the medicine except that the company selling it is successful enough to be able to afford a celebrity in their ad campaigns. However the recent news that Prince Charles and President Obama are to have solar panels installed on their houses is something different. Both are leaders in the climate change movement, and whatever you think of them politically, at least this is the right sort of endorsement. This is people who advocate change actually taking measures to be a part of that change by starting to use solar energy.
Whether or not this will actually encourage others to take up solar energy themselves is unclear. To anyone who says that solar panels are too ugly to put up however, this should serve as a powerful rebuttal. After all, whose house is more iconic and distinctive than the President of the United State’s? The White House is one of the best known properties in the entire world, and if ever an argument could be made for keeping a building looking the same it would be for that one. In order to get involved in solar energy however, he agreed to have the solar panels installed.
Similarly, Prince Charles had to receive planning permission to have his solar panels installed on the roof at Clarence House, which is also a building with a very distinctive look. Hopefully therefore, this will speak to anyone who would like to get solar panels installed but are afraid of what it is going to make their house look like. They might consider whether their house has as much style and distinctiveness as Clarence House or the White House, and so whether style should really stop them carrying out their plans.
Nobody is saying style is not important, and the look of solar panel’s on one’s roof might not be to everybody’s taste. Nevertheless, the other issues involved here are saving money and saving the planet, and not necessarily in that order. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and when we burn them they pollute the atmosphere. Additionally, at times when the economy is struggling, saving money on your energy bill might be something important to look into as well. Whichever way you look at it therefore, these two issues, of saving money and saving the planet, are surely more important than maintaining the look of your property. Especially when people like Prince Charles and President Obama are willing to risk the look of their houses which, it is fair to say, have looks a good deal more distinguished than most of the properties in the UK.
The choice whether or not to have solar panels installed is of course a big one to make and should not be taken lightly. The upfront payment to make a commitment to solar energy is something which needs to be considered carefully. Although this should be tempered with the fact that they will, over time, pay for themselves through the savings that will be made on electricity bills as well as the money that will be made with the feed-in tariff. It is not only a cosmetic issue which needs to be considered… in fact, perhaps, as President Obama and Prince Charles are showing us, it should not be a cosmetic issue at all.