How Do Solar Panels Work?

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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!

how do solar panels work

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David Cameron: Told to Support UK Solar

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davidcameronOver 150 companies have signed a letter which was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron 7th July 2014. The letter is urging him to support the UK’s thriving solar industry and support UK solar farms and providers. Top dog companies that have signed the letter include: Ikea, The Eden Project, and Finesse Energy Ltd. The letter comes after the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) closes their talks about removing the renewable obligation support for solar farms over 5MW. This has been described by some of the leading solar suppliers and experts as a “kick in the teeth”. Without this support the predicted £78 billion per year global solar market (by 2020) becomes an impossible target.

 

Support UK Solar: The Home-Grown Energy Crisis Solution

SolarTradeAssociationPaul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association explained: “Solar is a home-grown solution to Britain’s energy crisis. If the government provides a stable policy environment solar will soon be subsidy free. But the government is now proposing to tilt the playing field against large-scale solar, while not taking sufficient action to unlock commercial rooftop solar – that is unacceptable. We urge DECC not to close the Renewables Obligation to large-scale solar and to rethink proposals on feed-in tariffs to allow a meaningful rooftop market which their own Solar PV Strategy recognises has such tremendous potential.”

 

Government Needs to Wake Up to Renewable Markets

SolarCenturyJeremy Leggett, chair of SolarAid and non-executive chairman of SolarCentury added: “Despite all of the incredible achievements of the UK solar industry since 2010, it’s still very clear that the Whitehall mind-set has yet to catch up. Too much of the wording in the current solar consultation has the whiff of Groundhog Day about it. It’s time that the government woke up to the fact that, with stable support, jobs rich UK solar will be cheaper than onshore wind during the next Parliament, opening up immense opportunities for UK PLC and driving down the costs of delivering the 2020 renewable energy target in the process.

You can read the full letter in the link below.
Source:

SolarPowerPortal: David Cameron Told To Support UK Solar by Over 150 Companies

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5 Misconceptions About Solar Power

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Converting to solar power doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Converting to solar power doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

1. Solar Power is Expensive.

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.Starry Night Sky

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!)

 

 

Installed Solar Security Light3. 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.Reliable Street

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.

 

 

Yes, I had a Pet Rock as a teenager. I even put boggle eyes on it.
Yes, I had a Pet Rock as a teenager. I even put boggle eyes on it.

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.

 

 

Sources:

Planning Portal: Electrical: Part P

Statistics on Increased Demand for Solar Power

The Analysis on The Department for Energy & Climate Change DUKES 2013 Report

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12 Tips to Reduce The Performance of Your Solar Lights

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We often have people telling us our solar lights are too bright or work for too long and that they don’t want to offend the neighbour by their garden being lit up all night long and are fearful of planes landing in their back garden. So we’ve put together a few tips on how you can reduce the performance of your solar lights or even stop them working altogether:

How to Achieve The Worst Possible Performance of Your Solar Lights:

Solar Lights Next to a Wall

1. Under a Bush

Solar panel Under a bush or in a tree. Any bush or tree will do but the best reduction in performance is achieved by thick foliage conifers are the best trees for reducing performance as they keep green all year round.

 

2. Next to a Fence or Wall

Solar panel next to a fence or Wall – best reduction in performance is achieved by putting the light immediately adjacent to a solid fence or brick wall, if you place the light at the base of a brick wall and on the north side you should be able to get your light to stop working in the winter months.

 

Solar Panel Underneath a Car

3. Solar Panel Under a Car

Parking your car over the top of the solar panel will stop all light getting to it and should result in the light not operating.

Solar Panel Facing North

 

4. Solar Panel Facing North

Facing the solar panel in a north direction reduces the performance significantly.

 

5. Solar Panel facing the Floor

If you want to stop your light working you could try directing the panel downwards facing the floor.

 

Disconnected Panel From Light

6. Disconnect the solar panel from the Light

A light with no power will never work if you are able to disconnect the panel from the light you will remove all energy and completely disable the light from working some lights have the batteries separate from the panel so you may need to drain these down before complete failure is achieved.

 

Solar Panel Behind Glass

7. Solar panels behind glass

This is a great way to stop lights from working as not only are you restricting the amount of light the panel will get by the shadow effect you are also blocking the UV rays as modern windows are designed to prevent the energy required for solar power getting through.

 

 

Solar Panel in Conservatory for Reduced Performance of Your Solar Lights

8. Solar panels in a conservatory

Not as effective as a window sill as less shadow effect however you still have UV protection so should be able to reduce the performance of your solar light significantly.

 

Solar Panel Under Snow

9. Solar Panel Under Snow

This is like putting your solar panel in a shadow; performance will be reduced but unfortunately a good quality solar product will still work a little in this situation.

 

Charging Solar by Moonlight

 

 

10. Solar Charge by Moonlight

If you only try and charge your lights on bright moon lit night the light will fail, make sure you remember to bring the light in before dawn and lock it a way in a dark cupboard during the day though.

 

11. Solar Panel in The Arctic Circle

This is a good way to reduce the performance of your solar lights but that is all it will do the further you get from the equator the more successful at stopping your light working will be.

 

Circuit of a Solar Light Under Water

 

12. Solar Panel Underwater

This will pretty much guaranteed failure of your light because not only is it difficult for UV to pass through water but the water will also seep into your panel and destroy it from within. This will of course mean you will never be able to get your light to work again.

 

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Solar Power In The UK Passes The 1GW Milestone

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Solar Trophy

 

 

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.

 

 

Solar PV Demand Per Quarter 2013 in MW
Chart showing solar PV demand per quarter in 2013 in megawatts

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.

Installed Location of Cumulative Solar PV Panels in the UK
Installed Location of Cumulative Solar PV Panels in the UK

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.

 

Sources:
Annual Demand for Solar Power in UK Passes 1GW Milestone
UK Solar Power PV Demand in Quarter 2 Declines

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How Is The UK Re-Charging?

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DECC LogoThe DUKES 2013 Report

Last month the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) released their Statistical Press Release: The Digest of UK Energy Statistics (aka DUKES) taken from 2012. It has a lot of graphs and numbers but what exactly does it mean?

I’m here to provide a closer look and point out some of the interesting trends.

Offshore RenewablesRenewable Energy on The Up!

This graph shows the gradual increase of renewable energy produced by the UK from 2004 to 2012. The UK only became interested in renewable energy in the mid-1990’s. The news is good! Each year has shown an increase and each year it has been above the target set by the government.

UK Energy Produced by Renewables
The percentage of UK Energy Produced by Renewables

But It’s Not All Good News …

However, the target set for the government is low compared to other countries. Each time we’ve surpassed that target it has only been by 0.1%, which is hardly breaking any records. Germany, for instance, has just broken its monthly solar power generation record (again). In July 2013 they logged 5.1 terawatt’s hours of electricity. (To put that in to perspective we only got 1114.2 gigawatts from renewable sources!)

Installed Capacity of PV Per Country
The total capacity of Photovoltaic panels per country.

Quote From Clean Technica:

“In terms of total solar power capacity per capita, Germany crushes every other country. At the end of 2012, it had approximately 400 MW of solar power capacity per million people, considerably more than #2 Italy at 267 MW per million people, #3 Belgium at 254 MW per million people, and #4 Czech Republic at 204 MW per million, and #5 Greece at 143 MW per million people. The US came it at #20 with about 25 MW per million people.”

Notice how we don’t even feature on that list? I know we’re a small country but we could be doing more. It’s certainly spiked upwards but it’s hardly the runner-up to winning the medal, let alone the gold seeker!

The Good News

There is good news in this muddle of information. Offshore wind generation (which is the UK’s second largest renewable source currently after biomass) has increased by 46% in 2012 and had a greater load factor than gas. (33.7% from wind compared to 30.4% from gas.)

UK Electricity Generation by Fuel
UK Electricity Generation by Fuel

The Final Word And Going Forwards

Slowly things are changing. It’s not just about turning off the television or light bulb any more. It’s about moving forwards and growing with the changes happening around us. Perhaps the UK government should review their plan and set more aggressive targets for renewable energy so we can try to catch up on the swift progress being made elsewhere in Europe.

Sources:

Germany Breaks Monthly Solar Generation Record, 6.5 Times More than US best, from Clean Technica

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2013 – Press Release

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Holy Solar

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Roof tiles on the Paul VI auditorium are being replaced by 2,700 solar panels in move that will save over 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted every 2 weeks.

With a reported installation cost of £1.5 million the Pope is certainly lucky they’ve been donated by Bonn-based company, Solar World at no cost.

Surplus power will be fed back into the grid earning the Vatican a good chunk of revenue when it’s not being used to cool or heat the 6,000 seater hall.

See video footage of the installation here.

Thanks to the BBC for this story.

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