Even if you don’t know much about science, and outer space in particular, most of us know that that great big yellow thing in the sky is quite important for our existence. The majority of us will realise that without the Sun, things down here on Earth would be pretty cold and dark. However, we were curious to see what else might happen if our giant source of heat and light were to suddenly vanish from the sky.
Our latest infographic explores everything that would happen should the sun disappear, along with a timescale of how long it would take for these things to happen. For example, within eight minutes all the planets would start to travel in a straight line through space because there would no longer be a gravitational pull from the Sun and the surfaces of the oceans would freeze over within a couple of months. Take a look at the infographic below to find out more about what would happen to us and our planet if the Sun were to disappear.
In recent years, the popularity of solar panels has spiked with the increasing awareness of the need to move away from fossil fuels. Solar panels have been around for decades, having first been used in the 1960’s by space pioneers. Despite being around for so long, many people do not understand the science behind solar panels, and more importantly, how they are able to generate electricity from the Sun. In nature, the Sun provides energy to the Earth and most of the life that lives on it. Solar panels were invented to capture this energy and then convert it into usable energy which can then be used to power appliances in day-to-day life. The process is not as complicated as you may imagine, with it mainly to do with the flow of electrons triggered by the energy of the sun. Have a look for yourself and answer one of life’s great mysteries; how do solar panels work? Get those GCSE Chemistry books ready for reference!
Energy demands across the world are soaring and the price is still climbing for the end users. As the population grows and more technology (electric cars, more appliances for the kitchen, etc.) is added this strain is only going to increase. To meet the rising demand for energy more pylons, cabling, resources, and man-hours will be required, which could add up to £1,000 per year by 2050 to the end users bill. (Quotation from S&C Electric the power services company.)
At the moment, in the UK, renewable energy sources are growing at a steady rate but even they cannot match the growing demand required. Renewable sources are also not constant: the days where there is no wind for the windmills and no sun for the solar panels means less energy is created.
Which leads to the question: how can this issue be solved? Are we facing an energy crisis?
A suggestion from Anthony Price from the UK’s Electricity Storage Network is that we look at how the UK stores it’s energy. If energy was stored and saved during the lulls between high demand then it could be used as a back-up for when it soars again. This would cover the gaps in the renewable energy sources as the surplus energy created on great days could be saved for the rainy days. This ruling would also mean that the windmills are not turned off once their quota has been reached and instead could be saved for the future.
How to Store Energy: Pumped Hydro and Efficient Batteries?
There are a few ways to store energy from pumped hydro to powerful and efficient batteries (currently being implemented around the world). The Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab estimates that if we were to invest in better energy storage that it could save the UK £10bn per year by 2050. The estimates from Lux Research suggest the global industry for energy storage could be worth $100bn in the next few years.
Andrew Jones at S&C Electric believes the real difference will happen when smart meters installed in homes will know when to turn appliances off. This could lead to a give and taken relationship when the power is needed elsewhere. For example, turning the television off from standby so the power could be used to balance the rest of the grid. Germany is already starting to implement these types of smart appliances.
The bigger picture and Your Bill
This could then lead to a larger scale operation where small-scale power generation is feasible. Households and businesses already sell energy back into the grid but soon any device able to store energy could also feed it back. The electric car not being used could turn into the battery required to power something else as connectivity grows. The technology isn’t there yet but it’s headed in that exciting direction and could save the UK a fortune. According to S&C Electric the original £1,000 predicted for end users bills by 2050 it could be as little as £100 if smart grids and energy storage were implemented.
A team of researchers at Liverpool University have discovered a way of replacing the toxic element in the manufacturing process of making solar panels. This could mean cheaper solar energy. The key: a material that is found in bath salts or tofu. Their aim: to make solar panel manufacture cheap enough to compete with conventional power generation.
The Science Behind The Discovery
Here’s the science part: 90% of all solar cells are made from silicon and at least 7% are made from cadmium telluride. The cadmium telluride cells are thinner than the silicon panels and are more popular due to the cheaper manufacturing costs. However what they save in pennies and pounds is poured back in resources cost. They use the toxic material cadmium chloride which is expensive, a limited resource and very rare, and needs to be disposed of as contaminated waste product in current manufacture. Using the non-toxic alternative, magnesium chloride which is extracted from seawater, could work instead. It is completely safe, creating no chemical/contaminated waste product, and is typically found in bath salts.
The Simplified Version
By using the alternative chemical (magnesium chloride) to make solar panels we could cut out a lot of the waste and also cost! There would be no contaminated waste product which requires special procedures and disposal. This would mean a lower cost of disposing the waste and a lower cost for the planet. As a double whammy the cost of extracting the chemical (magnesium chloride) is also cheaper.
Physicist, Dr Jon Major from the University’s Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, carried out the research. He said: “If renewable energy is going to compete with fossil fuels then the cost has to come down. Great strides have already been made but the findings in this paper have the potential to reduce costs further.”
The Future: Cheaper Solar Energy
Your future solar panels could be (and possibly should be) manufactured using a chemical that is obtained from seawater. Hopefully, if researchers continue to make these ground-breaking discoveries, the world could generate all of its energy from the sun and for a lot less! I look forward to when our entire range is manufactured with this new panel technology.
The UK has broken its own personal best solar power record in the last few weeks by nearly doubling its 2013 solar output for the same period. This is a massive step in the right direction and wasn’t predicted. (With the budget removed by the government it was feared this would shrink.) Solar capacity in the UK is difficult to measure due to massive array of small personal PV and solar cells on houses. However, it is estimated that last year the installed solar capacity generated from homes, buildings, and solar farms was 2.7GW. It has now risen to 4.7gw!
What the Experts Say
Ray Noble, consultant at the UK National Solar Centre, said this: “There are now 530,000 installations in the UK, of which 510,000 are domestic small-scale ones. Last weekend we estimated they generated about 8% of daytime electricity in total. We think that this is likely to double again within a year. There is nothing to stop it getting to 30-40% of UK electricity at this time of year.”
The Worldwide Picture
We’re not the only ones breaking records either! France, Italy, Denmark, and Germany (amongst others) are believed to have generated record amounts in June as well. Germany has been one of the fore-runners in moving to renewable energy for a long time. They managed a peak of 23.1GW hours at lunchtime Monday 9 June. This is equivalent to 50.6% of its total electricity need. It’ll be a long time before we can challenge them for the top spot but the UK certainly isn’t the last horse in the race.
Europe added 10.9GW of PV capacity in 2013 which made a total of 81GW worldwide!
The new Blackfriars rail station in London has opened this week. Taking only five years to build, the bridge crosses the River Thames, hosts Blackfriars rail station, and, surprisingly, boasts a total of 4,400 roof-mounted solar panels making it the world’s largest solar-powered bridge!
Solar-powered Bridge Will Cut Carbon Emissions
The panels are expected to cut the stations’ carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes per year. (That’s roughly the average weight of 73 African elephants for some fun perspective!) The photovoltaic panels will provide up to half of the energy for London Blackfriars station. This will reduce the carbon footprint of its train routes to the south east of England.
What First Capital Connect Said:
“Electric trains are already the greenest form of public transport!” David Statham, Managing Director of First Capital Connect stated, “This roof gives our passengers an even more sustainable journey. The distinctive roof has also turned the station into an iconic landmark visible for miles along the River Thames.”
The Company Behind the Solar-powered Bridge:
Solarcentury installed the panels in a series of phases over the past two years – only stopping to reduce inconvenience during the 2012 Olympic Games. It was one of the company’s most complex tasks to date as a giant jigsaw over a large river which was a lot more complicated than a warehouse rooftop where they would normally install them. “We had different sections of roof available at different times to fit in with this complicated jigsaw of getting everything up and going,” explained Gavin Roberts, Solarcentury’s senior project manager.
London’s Efforts and The Future!
It is expected that the new solar-powered bridge will give a major boost to London’s efforts to become a sustainable city. Solarcentury’s Suzanna Lashford, head of commercial sales, hopes the project will inspire more developers to turn towards other sources of renewable energy. She said, “Network Rail has invested funds into the project is a great sign for the solar industry. They’re an old English institution and they’re looking to the future to make investments into non-core technologies for the business, and that’s a great statement that other large corporations in the country can start realising.”
With the end of the camping season (for those not crazy enough to camp in the snow) coming to an end now is a great time to plan next year’s trips and camping sessions. Here at The Solar Centre we’re helping you on your way with 5 solar power tips for camping:
1, Avoid tripping over the guy-lines with pathway lights around the tent.
I do a lot of camping and my vision in the dark is ridiculously poor, especially at some of the camp-sites that don’t have lamps or pathways for that matter. If I had a pound for every guy-line I’ve tripped over and woken somebody up in the middle of the night I’d be a millionaire by now. There is one easy solution and the craze is spreading quickly: use solar pathway lights or LED lights to mark the guy-lines. You would be surprised at how many people do this now. It’s simple, effective, and will mark your tent out from the rest if you like going to big festivals and have trouble finding it again. Most pathway lights or LED lights also pack down to be really small and won’t take up a lot of space in your kit bag.
2, Jazz up your tent and camp with fairy lights. Bring the bling to the party!
Who says camping has to be dull and boring with plain canvas tents or tents that are run-of-the-mill standard? Jazz it up with some solar powered fairy lights. Your tent and camp will look fantastic. (It’s also a good excuse for a party and a few drinks around the fire!) Everybody will want to be at your party. Also, why stop at just the tent. When you aren’t camping use the fairy lights in your own garden to highlight a tree, statue, or decorate an outdoor cinema or fire pit.
3, Need your phone for emergencies? Make sure you take a solar charger with you.
If you are somebody who cannot leave the grid for various reasons (i.e. you run a business and have to take every call, or have a few old friends who need to keep in contact, or children who may need to get hold of you, etc.) then be sure to take a solar power charger for your phone along on the camping trip – or any trip for that matter! Let’s say you are going to deepest, darkest, Peru and they don’t have power. The solar power charger can keep you going and going and going! Most solar power chargers also do more than just phones: batteries, camera’s, iPods and iPads, notebooks, etc.
4, Take a solar power camping/torch light with you.
This sounds daft but a torch is usually the first thing I forget when packing to go camping. Even worse, you’ve remembered to pack the torch but once you arrive you find out the batteries have expired. There are plenty of options on the market from wind-up to solar powered torches. The newest is one that combines both wind-up and solar for the days spent in deepest, darkest, Peru! Everybody loves a good gadget.
5, Use solar power to cook your food.
Everybody loves a good barbecue but have you considered cooking your food using solar energy? Technology is improving every day and at rates which are in leaps and bounds. There is now a metallic tube which can boil water or cook meals using directed heat from the sun. There are also various other solar cooking methods – all of which surpass the fond Scout days of covering a cardboard box in aluminium and waiting for the food to cook. It is so simple and really effective.
The Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, has cleared the first stage of the scheme to install £47m worth of solar rooftop panels over the next four years. The plan is to install the solar panels on council owned houses and public buildings as part of a bid to become European Green Capital in 2015. Bristol is also hoping to become the UK’s “Solar Capital” by installing 1GW of solar power by 2020.
Minister of State: Gregory Barker’s Solar Energy UK Speech
This comes after the announcement from Minister of State Gregory Barker’s speech to the Solar Energy UK conference, which set out the vision for growth of UK solar PV. Gregory Barker quoted “I think we can go faster and further. I am on record as having a personal ambition to see 20GW [in the UK] deployed by 2020. And I continue to believe that is possible.”
The Changes Needed
However, he also went on to explain that several things needed to change for this to become a reality:
The Industry needs to drive down costs even quicker.
Solar companies need to innovate faster.
The energy sector needs to push for efficiency through the whole supply chain.
Solar PV developers need work closer with local communities and avoid alienating them.
And the energy and solar industry needs to look at export markets.
The Scheme Details
Bristol City Council confirmed yesterday that it has already started to seek contractors for the first £6m phase of the solar scheme. The formal tender process is expected to begin in January 2014 and start work in June. The programme could also cover more properties, depending on the success of the project and tenants, and could use some fields in the region to create larger solar panel arrays. The council said it plans to borrow money to pay for the phase, which will then be repaid by the feed-in tariff payments. The scheme could save occupiers £130-£260 a year and reduce council costs.
George Ferguson’s thoughts regarding the plans: “I really welcome this proposal. It is an important step forward which supports our environmental role, a leading one in Europe.”
This could not be any further from the truth and myth-busting it is easy. The price of solar panels is falling, dramatically, as the demand and amount of importers is increasing. The statistics from the Department of Energy & Climate Change also reported that 50% of all installed solar panels across the UK are residential. If other people are doing it, surely it cannot be that expensive? You also get money back via the Feed-in-Tariff issued by the government for each unit of energy you create. That’s right: you get paid!
You don’t have to convert your whole house to benefit either. If you want garden lights, security lights, or gadgets, a lot of these can now be powered by solar energy. In the long run, even if you only change a few things to solar power, you will save money on your bills each month. It all adds up.
2. Solar Power Doesn’t Work at Night.
All solar powered items come with batteries. Why? Because the sun isn’t around at night. The solar panel charges to the batteries which then power the light or item at night. Eventually the batteries will need replacing but usually they’ll last a very long time (saving you more money!)
3. Installing Solar Powered Lights is Expensive.
You don’t need to hire an electrician to install solar lights or solar kits. You can do it yourself and usually in under an hour; depending on the light you choose. You also don’t need to tap into your mains or drill holes through your house to get the mains wiring outside because solar lights are usually self-contained units with only one wire to the panel. Easy peasy.
You might prefer to hire somebody if you’re like me and worry about falling off a ladder but that choice is yours. The rules (Part P of the planning regulations) include full details about this rule.
Another point to consider if your solar light is an LED light: the bulbs won’t need replacing as often because they last that much longer. (Some quote up to 50,000 hours light-time.)
4. Solar Power isn’t Reliable.
This may have been the case when solar power first hit the markets but technology has since improved. Solar panels are better, the batteries can hold more and be changed less often, and the lights are now using the most up-to-date LED technology.
5. Solar Power Won’t Last.
This one is an opinion rather than fact based. However, when you look at the statistics, it is hard to believe that this will be a fad that will die out like all of the rest. Governments all around the globe are starting to spend a lot more on renewable energy as we race towards the future. Scientists are exploring new ways that solar power can help us and how far it can go. More importantly: we are starting to think about a greener future as the Eco-movement grows!
Unlike some other fads that I’ve seen in my time!
Also, the sort of solar panels we use degrade less than 1% per year. This means that in 20 years you should still have at least 80% of the performance you had in the first instance.
The UK has reached the grand milestone of 1 gigawatt (1GW) in demand for solar PV panels. Using year-to-date data, and despite the 46% decline in the second quarter, the solar power in the UK is currently on trend to smash the current record.
Why The Sudden Drop?
Why the 46% decline? There’s a bunch of reasons but lets briefly touch on a couple:
The cut in the Renewable Obligation Certificate incentives on 1st April 2013. This is less impacting for the end users and more about the companies who provide power. It led to less ground-mounted solar PV panels.
The European Commission increased the import tariff on China made solar PV panels. This meant it was more expensive to import solar PV panels.
On the whole, we’re not helping ourselves! But what’s more interesting is that it’s the little people who count more.
In The UK Currently:
Cumulative solar PV panels installed in the UK (at the end of June 2013) currently stands at 2.71 gigawatts. The largest percentage being residential installed panels! It’s the Joe Blogg’s of the UK with solar PV panels on the roof, shed, in the garden, anywhere possible.
In the first half of 2013 alone the UK has installed a whooping 106 solar PV panel farms. More than half of the new solar farms have an installed capacity of over 5 megawatts with 8% boasting over 10 megawatts.