Space technology heads back to earth

The Differences:

Whenever you see footage of a satellite out in space chances are the solar panels you’re looking at are not the same type of panels you see on roofs or in gardens back here on earth. The PV (photovoltaic) solar panels we have been using here one earth since the 1970s convert roughly 15% of the sun’s energy into electricity. The CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) solar panels often used in space are able to convert up to 44% of the sun’s energy into electricity which makes them three times more efficient.

Why The Solar Panels are Different:

CPV panels are more efficient because they use optics to focus large amounts of sun onto wafer thin photovoltaic surfaces to generate more electricity than traditional PV panels. Put simply, imagine setting up a parabolic telescope, pointing it at the sun (not something we recommend) and then sticking a highly efficient multi-junction solar cell in the eyepiece – that’s basically CPV.

 

Efficiency gain is just the beginning of the good news. A recent report by IMS Research suggests that although the upfront cost of CPV panels will be more expensive, CPV will cost 30% less than PV over the lifetime of a system because CPV produces three times more electricity. CPV panels will also be up to 3 times smaller than equivalent PV panels which will be great news for houses with small areas of south facing roof.

Solar Panels and The Future:

Large CPV solar power stations are already being developed in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. Residential CPV is still very much embryonic, but there are companies blazing a trail with experimental designs. If all goes to plan you might just see some CPV systems appearing on houses near you by 2025.

How Is The UK Re-Charging?


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

Do solar panels work when there is no sun?

Do solar panels only work in summer?  Can solar panels work in winter? Does solar really work in the UK?  I hope that by answering these questions I can make things a little clearer and hopefully shed some light on how solar works. An important part of the answer is the type of solar panel being used. There are many different varieties of solar panel available for generating solar energy “electricity”, but these are generally found in one of three guises; amorphous, polycrystalline and monocrystalline.

Amorphous Solar Panel
Amorphous Solar Panel

Amorphous panels

Amorphous solar panels are most commonly found on smaller solar products that are designed with a shorter life span and low energy requirements.  A huge advantage of amorphous solar panels are they need very little light to generate some energy, this enables them to work in shaded locations and means that they are very easy to position anywhere and deliver some light.  The disadvantage is they are very inefficient and so need to be more than twice the size of the other panels to deliver the same energy; or to look at it another way, generate less than half the power for the same physical size.   The result of less energy means the product has to be more efficient with what it consumes and so in regards to a garden light the bulb will be dim. Products that use Amorphous Solar Panels would be decorative path lights or lights that hang from trees in partially shaded locations.

 

Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline panels

Polycrystalline panels are basically bits of scrap monocrystalline panels that have been recycled.  Although they will never be as efficient as the monocrystalline panels in direct sun, they do get very close and the fractured nature of the construction makes them more efficient in changeable whether conditions.  Although more expensive than amorphous, polycrystalline panels deliver more energy for your £’s.  The disadvantage is that in very low light conditions they will not be able to harness much usable power – positioning of these panels is very important to achieving the best results. Products that use polycrystaline panels would be more utilitarian in nature where bright light is required for longer periods and in open spacious locations like solar security lighting and feature lighting.

 

Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Monocrystalline panels

Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient panels. They are designed to give maximum energy from minimal space and have the greatest life expectancy.  Unfortunately they are the most expensive.  Due to the cost they are rarely found in smaller applications such as home and garden lighting and would be more at home in a solar farm in the desert .  The disadvantage is that they do not perform well in cloudy or darkened conditions.

Monocrystalline solar panels are ideal for larger home energy systems and solar farms.

Summary
All solar panels will perform better in open south-facing locations that get direct sunlight. Amorphous panels will work best in shady or cloudy conditions, but will not compete with monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels will when the sun comes out.  Monocrystalline panels are better than polycrystalline, but are more expensive.

So do solar panels work when there is no sun?

do solar panels work when there is no sunNo, but all solar panels perform best when the sun is at its best and that is in the summer. Can solar panels work in winter and does solar really work in the UK? Yes, so long as the size and power of the solar panel is relative to the thing it needs to power. Take solar lights for an example. Cheap solar lights that have a panel the size of a postage stamp will struggle to work at the best of times. High quality solar lights with bigger panels can work reliably reliably in UK winter time so long as they are well located.

panel-comparison

Something will have to give…


A recent industry study by Kronos, Germany’s leading solar farm developer, suggests that Britain only has a handful of brownfield sites sufficient for large solar panel farms which puts a fresh dent in the governments pursuit of its renewable energy targets. Salvation is possible, but it does not have a pretty face.

solarpanelfarmIn July an application for a 199 panel farm in Land of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Berkshire was approved. Kronos themselves are currently working on proposals that would see a 250,000 panel farm spanning 100 acres of agricultural land in Hampshire which would generate enough power for 30,000 homes. Conservationists are concerned that the Kronos report signifies a loosening of the cork that is currently preventing the solar farm genie from leaving its bottle and blighting the green fields of Britain. Resistance to renewables is not new of course, opposition to windfarms has been well documented in recent years and there are currently around 300 windfarm action groups in the UK.

Nuclear is seen by some as the only catch-all solution, but doubt has been cast on the commercial viability of the latest EPR reactors that will be the cornerstone of Britain’s privatised modernisation programme. There is also considerable uncertainty regarding regulation of the nuclear industry and nuclear waste disposal. Resistance is strong here too. Both the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament are opposed to new nuclear power stations.

FrackingHydraulic fracturing, or Fracking, has recently made headlines despite being commonplace in the North Sea since the 1970s. Now the drills are making their way inshore serious concerns have arisen regarding earthquake risk and water contamination.

 


Against this backdrop of opposition there is the looming prospect of a power deficit in the UK where demand is stronger than ever. In June 2013 OFGEM issued a warning stating that the risk of power blackouts in the UK within the next 18 months has doubled since a year ago. In that year Britain’s population, which is now the fastest growing in Europe, increased by 420,000 which is two and a half times the increase experienced by Germany. In 1970 the energy consumed in British homes represented a quarter of Britain’s total consumption; it is now a third thanks to the increase in housing stock which is still regarded as woefully inadequate.

It is almost impossible to find a form of mass power generation, renewable or otherwise, that does not come loaded with controversy and opposition. The time at which an unstoppable force (Britain’s power needs) meets an immovable object (the resistance to virtually all forms of mass power generation) is fast approaching and something will have to give.

 

 

The Solar Electric Car – Just Gets Better

No sooner had I finished writing the article on Green GT’s Solar Electric car did I come across more images of the developments they have made.
Wow it is simple I am converted where do I sign up I want to buy one!

Green-Gts-Electric-Car

And apparently the intention is to race in Le-Mans as soon as 2011 – I will say it again Wow! – it seems amazing that from electric power which can be recharged for free from solar, harnessing the suns power can then power a Le-Mans racing car.
I did notice a lack of solar paneling on these images but I am sure that is just so it looks pretty in the pics.

Further confirmation of this cars impressive performance is it is meant to have 350-400 bhp which means that 0-62mph is achievable in less than 4secs – Unbelievable!
One of my questions answered though.

Solar Electric Cars at Le-Mans? It will never happen!

When asked the question – would i drive an electric car my initial thought is of a milk float; not exactly the best vehicle to impress the girls.
Then I was shown these pics:-

Green-Car-back Green-Car-front

Surely this was a joke a car that had a top speed of 5mph jazzed up to look like a race car, but no this car can supposedly go 170mph! I of course want to read more – I now had all the questions how quickly does it get to this speed? How long can it be powered for? Could i drive from one end of the country to the other without any fuel? Top car Manufacturers Audi have already shown Le Mans can be won by diesel power will solar electric be the next winning Le-Mans car?

This Solar powered electric car comes from the team at Green GT and it’s an impressive car on paper. The race-spec carbon-fiber chassis holds two liquid-cooled 100-kilowatt (about 148 horsepower) motors that the Swiss gearheads claim put 1,475 pound-feet of torque to the tarmac at up to 100 mph. That figure rolls off to 590 pound-feet beyond the century mark and stays there as the car approaches its claimed top speed of 170 mph. The juice comes from a pair of 30-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery packs. All told, the car weighs 1,896 pounds.

If that’s still not green enough for you, the guys at Green GT have installed Flexcells solar panels on each sidepod for extra charging. The whole shebang is brought to a quick stop with Brembo brakes mounted within lightweight magnesium wheels.

The plan is to test the prototype through the summer and begin series production once they’ve sorted everything out. The goal is to build 20 to 25 cars and possibly launch a European race series for the car. Ultimately, the firm hopes to race against its fossil-fueled counterparts in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

Solar Spot Light – Super Bright

There are many solar spot lights on the market – some metal, some plastic, some bright some decorative. So how do you pick?

I have always believed that a spot light should be to highlight something, whether it a statue, a building or a tree.  However the majority of solar spot lights simply are not powerful enough – that was until i discovered the 8 LED Solar Garden Spot.  This really is a super powerful solar garden spotlight like none other on the market.

With 8 Bright LED’s all lined up in a row with a super reflective backing really make this solar light project over a great distance with a good spread of light also.

Now not everyone is like me, some would prefere a more subtle effect from their solar lighting but I don’t think i am alone in expecting the solar lights to work for 4-6 hours every night even in winter – in fact more so in winter as it gets dark earlier and not only do you need light for a longer period but it is when you get to show off your garden lighting for every one to see.  The Solar Garden spot is bright and does last 4-6hrs per night even in winter but if you want a slightly less bright light then my second choice would be the solar spot this again is trully a dusk until dawn solar light with amazing performance for its size – I would use this solar light for shrubbery and small garden sculptures it will light up a good 5 metre area though so still very powerful.

How to Buy a Solar Garden Light

Want to know how to buy a garden light that will last all year round!

Dont know how to pick the right light for your needs?

I am going to try and help with this simple guide.

There are three main points to a light – The Panel, The Power (battery) and the Light (LED’s).

Most garden lights will have 1 (one) LED these are the sort of lights that are normally available as a set of four and are fairly cheap they are designed either to be decorative or as path markers. General Solar Garden Lights are available with 2 (two) LED’s through to 4 (four) LED’s. Any more than 4 LED’s and the light is either a solar spot light or a solar security lights and not meant to be lit all night.

Battery – generally the cheaper garden lights will have 1 (one) 600 mAh AA or AAA battery this can be replaced with a slightly higher powered battery if you want to, this will allow the light to last longer into the night during the summer monthes but will not improve winter performance. The higher the power of the battery the more LED’s it can power or the longer the light will remain on e.g. a light with a 1200mAh battery will last twice as long as a similar light with a 600 mAh battery.

A light with 1 LED and 600 mAh will last the same amount of time as a light with 2 LED’s and a 1200 mAH battery but the light with 2 LED’s will be brighter.

The final piece of the puzzle is the panel and although their is a science it is not one that has to be given much thought. As a general rule the bigger the panel the more power it will produce. If you have a light with four LED’s 2 x 1200 mAh batteries and a tiny panel then you will find the light will probably work for a couple of nights but struggle to work beyond this.


In Summary

The more LED’s the brighter the Light.

The higher mAh figure the longer the light will stay on for.

The larger the panel the more power will be put back into the battery.

Solar Festival Charger

In 2008 The Solar Centre took part in a few festivals and exhibitions to see what the market wanted and what people thought in regards to solar.
The general comment was “solar does not work” and then with a quick Solar Phone Charger demonstration a number of people changed their opinions to “Solar is the Future”.
In fact at the Glastonbury Festival we had many people coming back to us with friends for them to buy one and buying more as solar Christmas gifts for friends and family.
It really was an eye opening experience for us to see the lack of faith in solar and for our customers to see how far solar has developed.
We tried to take a range of solar gadgets and solar gizmos to demonstrate that solar means a lot more than simple solar garden lights. We also wanted to see what people were interested in buying whether it was a solar toy for them or the latest solar gizmo for a tech savvy awkward to buy for friend. The results were pretty conclusive with The Solar Mobile Chargers stealing the show.

My favourite just for the record was the Power Monkey a bit more expensive than the Freeloader but far better when you needed a charger to rely on over several days and when you wanted to charge your ipod as well as your phone in one day.

Have you used a Solar charger?  What do you think!  Let us know your comments.