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The Use Of Solar Energy Through The Centuries

18 Dec

Did you know that solar energy has been around for centuries but not in the way we know and love today? It has been used in a number of different ways for example during the 7th century B.C people magnified the sun’s rays to create fire!

Let’s rewind to six thousand years ago when Neolithic Chinese villagers had the sole opening of their homes south facing. They did this to catch the rays of the low winter sun to help warm the interior. The overhanging thatched roof kept the high summer sun off the houses throughout the day so those inside would stay cool. Two thousand years later Chinese urban planners would build the main streets of towns to run east to west to allow every house to look to the south to catch the winter sun for supplementary heating. Over the many years Chinese cities followed such planning ideas and still today the Chinese favour a south-facing home.

Allegedly in the 2nd century B.C Archimedes, an Ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer from Sicily used the reflective properties of brass to set Roman ships that were attacking Syracuse on fire. Fast forward a century and we saw the Greeks and Romans using ‘burning mirrors’ to light torches for religious purposes.

The Romans also had large windows covered with either transparent stone or clear glass. This was one of the great breakthroughs in building and solar technology. Transparent materials like mica or glass, the Romans discovered, acts as a solar heat trap, admitting sunlight into the desired space and holding in the heat so it accumulates inside. Sun-right laws were passed which made it a civil offence to block ones access to face the south.

In 1767 a Swiss scientist called Horace-Benedict de Saussure created the very first solar cell. He constructed an insulated box with an opening and three layers of glass. It magnified the suns heat to temperatures in excess of 230 degrees Fahrenheit and could be used in a variety of ways. It was known as a ‘Hot Box’ and became the prototype for solar thermal collectors used to heat water and homes.

The first major milestone in the evolution of solar energy took place in 1839 and it was defined as the photovoltaic effect. A young French scientist by the name of Edmund Bacquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect whilst experimenting in his father’s laboratory with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electrolyte.  After exposing it to light, electricity increased.

Fast forward once again to 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper on the photoelectric effect, which Robert Millikan proved with experimental proof in 1916.  This sparked further research into solar energy, and in 1918, Jan Czochralski developed the Czochralski process to grow single crystal silicon, which would later become critical to the PV industry.

Years later in 1921, 16 years after he submitted this paper, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for the scientific breakthroughs he had discovered.

It was in 1954 that Daryl Chaplin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson propelled the industry into what it is today. They developed the silicon PV cell at Bell labs, which was the first solar cell able to convert enough energy to power everyday electrical equipment.

Blink and it’s soon to be the start of 2016, it may have took a long time to come to fruition but we can’t argue the power of the sun. It’s a very exciting time for solar energy as its seeing positive signs of investment and growth. Key for the future of solar is the development of efficient, cost-effective solar panels, which will see the development of exciting new technology. Watch this space!




Sweden aims to be the first fossil fuel free country by 2050

20 Nov

The race is on for the title to be the first nation free from fossil fuels. Sweden are full speed ahead towards the goal and are showing no signs of slowing down soon. The Swedish government have promised a whopping 4.4 billion krona (£354 million) from is 2016 budget. The country have a number of renewable energy outlets ranging from wind to wave power. Sweden relies heavily on renewable energy for the nation’s electricity needs, and the government is positioned to make hefty investments in even more clean energy projects, clean transportation alternatives, and smart power grids.

A major player in their renewable energy mix is hydroelectric power which accounts for more than half of their energy production. More than 1900 power stations operate all over the country. Forty-five produce 100 MW and over, 17 produce 200 MW and over, and 6 produce 400 MW and over. The largest station, which is located on the upper Lule River, has a maximum production capacity of 977 MW. The Lule River is also the most productive river, with almost 18% of the Swedish installed effect.

Just this year, Sweden were honoured with being named the most sustainable country on Earth. Last year two thirds of Sweden’s electricity generation came from clean and low-carbon sources and the country aims to improve on this. To get closer to the 2050 goal, the government plans to increase investments in solar power eightfold between 2017 and 2019.

Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has told the Swedish Parliament: “Children should grow up in a toxin-free environment; the precautionary principle, the removal of dangerous substances and the idea that the polluter should pay are the basis of our politics.”

The government has a plan to close a number of its airports and nuclear plants in order to pay for the clean energy projects. They also intend to sell off a number of Swedish coal mines. The majority of funding for the clean energy investments will come from high taxes on oil and other fossil fuels.

Neighbouring countries such as Demark are taking inspiration from Sweden as they hope the whole of Scandinavia will set an example for other nations at the United Nations Climate Talks.



Why Energy Efficiency is the way forward…

23 Jul

Energy efficiency is “using less energy to provide the same service” being energy efficient is basically about using less energy to do the things we want/need. But are there any benefits? Yes!!! And many, that can massively impact positively in our environments. There are many, which if we all became energy efficient, would be realized greatly by all parts of society.

  1. If you install an energy efficient window into your home rather than a single pane window, the energy efficient window prevents heat from escaping in the winter, so you ultimately save energy and money as you use your electric heater or other heat appliances much less, however stay just as comfortable and warm. It also helps in summer too! Energy efficient windows keep the heat out, therefore you don’t have to keep your air conditioner running as often as you would – which again saves electricity and your money.
  2. Secondly, if you replace a clothes washer, refrigerator, printer, computer, etc, with a more energy efficient model it will provide the exact same service however will use less energy.  This saves you money on your energy bill, and reduces the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.

Energy efficiency is key in the fight against climate change as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, however it does more! Consider these benefits that go beyond climate change:

  • Lowering household energy bills – Energy efficiency is the easiest, most affordable and most efficient way for families to save money on both transportation costs and household expenses.
  • Reducing local air pollutants – Energy efficiency reduces local air pollutants that come from sources like oil or wood. These are separate from greenhouse gas emissions but include chemicals, such as sulphur dioxide, that are dangerous to humans.
  • Improving business competitiveness – Energy costs affect business’s greatly. Businesses that control their energy consumption will massively enjoy lower electricity, heating and transportation costs.
  • Increasing comfort – Energy efficiency offers to reduce energy costs, whilst also allowing more comfort. Energy bills can be incredibly expensive and some households have great difficulty paying to heat their homes. So being able to reduce energy costs and gain more comfort would be extremely significant.

Often energy efficiency and energy conservation are confused. Energy conservation is reducing or going without a service to save energy. However, energy efficiency is replacing an appliance/object with a more energy efficient model.

For example: Replacing a normal everyday lamp with a compact fluorescent lamp is energy efficiency – the compact fluorescent lamp uses much less energy however produces the exact same amount of light. Whereas, turning off a light to save energy is energy conservation. But ultimately both efficiency and conservation reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Now you know about being more energy efficient and its benefit/ability to lower costs, help save energy/electricity and help fight climate change, it’s time to take action.

In France All New Commercial Buildings Must Install Green Roofs or Solar Panels

26 Jun

France has introduced a new building requirement in its commercial zones. It calls for all roofs to be partially covered in either solar panels or plants. This is just a recent green headline to come from France following the Eiffel Tower wind turbines and the tree shaped wind turbines that are being installed in the capital.

Green roofs have been around for centuries in different corners of the world. We have seen an increase in green roof interest due to growing concerns surrounding climate change, carbon footprints and sustainability. It is not only roof’s that can be covered; walls can also have a green makeover. They offer many advantages to the public and private sectors ranging from waste diversion to energy efficiency.

A further benefit of a green roof is its isolating effect which allows buildings to better retain their heat during the winter months while reflecting and absorbing solar radiation during the summer months, allowing buildings to remain cooler.

They can help reduce the distribution of dust and particle matter through cities to combat the smog issue. They play a huge role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help adapt urban areas to predicted future climates with warmer summers.

Green roofs also have the ability to reduce sound from outside by up to 40 decibels. They have excellent noise reduction, especially for low frequency sounds.

Originally, French environmental activists had asked for all rooftops to be 100% green. The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to just commercial buildings.

By giving businesses the option to install solar panels rather than green roofs, France could catch up some with its neighbours when it comes to solar energy.

Germany currently has the highest installed capacity of solar and shows no signs of slowing down. Think Progress recently reported that France had only five gigawatts of photovoltaics implemented as of last summer, accounting for only one percent of all energy production.

Since 2009, Toronto Canada has had a similar mandatory green roof law in place, requiring green roofs on new buildings. Preliminary studies suggested that the city could save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs. France is making an investment in energy independence, efficiency, and stability.

Maybe we should all be looking at green roofs in our cities?



Indian Railway Tests Solar Powered Trains To Help Cut Fuel Bills And Pollution

16 Jun

India has one of the largest railway networks in the world carrying an estimated 23 million passengers daily on approximately 12,000 trains. In a huge move Indian Railways could soon be running its trains via solar power which would be a momentous move for the countries environmental conservation. The railway also transports around 3 million tonnes of freight daily which requires an enormous amount of energy.

At the forefront of the operation, Indian Railways plans to tackle the railways current fuel bill which currently constitutes as the second largest part of its expenditure, the first being its employee salaries. In 2012, Indian Railways consumed nearly 3 million kilolitres of diesel oil and about 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity.

Diesel alone is costing Rs30,000 crore (£3.02 billion) and overtime has been chomping away at the bank balance for Indian Railways.

The potential for solar energy in India is massive. Harnessing it will not only control diesel consumption (by up to 90,000 litres per year) and reduce carbon dioxide emissions (by over 200 tonnes), but also prove extremely cost-effective.

A prototype of a solar powered non air conditioned coach is currently undertaking trials, and soon the entire train will be fitted with solar panels, officials have said. At present, nearly 17 units of electricity are being generated from the solar powered coach. The cost of installing the panels on each coach, according to the Economic Times, is about Rs3.9 lakh (£3,905), and these are expected to result in savings of Rs1.24 lakh (£1,241) per year.

By 2020, Indian Railways plans for renewable energy to create at least 10% of its total energy consumption. The primary action is to implement solar-powered lighting via panels mounted on the roofs of trains.

As per the plan, the train would be pulled by conventional diesel-run engines while solar panels will provide all the internal electricity needs for lights and fans on both air conditioned and no air conditioned coaches.

The solar panelled coach will be tested in an assortment of conditions in the upcoming weeks by the Indian Institute of Science and the coach makers themselves, Integral Coach Factory.

Indian Railways also propose to harness solar energy in their train stations by implementing solar panels to the buildings roofs. The rail network plans 1,000 megawatts of solar-power projects in the next five years, Minister Suresh Prabhu said in parliament. Developers can use the railway land and buildings to set up solar panels.  The solar power will be used to light up stations and office buildings.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and blow your new straw house down

20 Mar

We all know the story of the three little pigs? In short there were three pigs, one greedy wolf, a house made of straw, a house made of sticks and a house made of bricks. The wolf blew houses down all but one…you can imagine which house survived and the fate of the three little pigs. Anyhow the reason behind this blog is that straw houses will no longer be the preserve of little pigs as the first straw houses are now being offered on the housing market.

A specialist architectural company called Modcell bumped heads with the University of Bath to research the project which led to the construction of seven houses. They were built on a street filled with traditional brick-built properties in Shirehampton, Bristol. Though, we must mention the seven houses are clad in brick to fit in with the area.  The houses have timber framed prefabricated walls and are filled with straw bales which are in cased in wooden boards. Someone’s been reading the three little pig’s story haven’t they?

The team have promised homeowners that they could see a 90% decrease in their fuel bills, much cheaper than the average brick home. They also boast a lower purchase price…what’s not to love? The project leader Professor Pete Walker said;

“The construction sector must reduce its energy consumption by 50% and its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, so radical changes are needed to the way we approach house building.

“As a construction material, straw is a low-cost and widely-available food co-product that offers real potential for ultra-low carbon housing throughout the UK.

“Building with straw could be a critical point in our trajectory towards a low-carbon future.”

The team behind the project insist that straw houses could help to meet housing demand in the UK sustainably. With so many young buyers struggling to get on the house market due to high purchase costs, could this be the answer? Or is some greedy wolf rubbing their hands together waiting for the house to fall down so they can have a tasty snack? Apparently not as Professor Walker continued;

 “Over the past three years of research we have looked at various aspects of the performance of straw,”

“Two that particularly come to mind as concerns or apprehension from potential users of straw are fire-resistance and weather-resistance.

 “In terms of durability, we have undertaken laboratory tests and undertaken monitoring of existing buildings and we have also done accelerated weather tests.

“The results of all these tests suggest that straw is a very durable construction solution.”

The team have thoroughly tired and tested the technology, working on its weight bearing properties and its thermal insulation. Straw houses have been on the increase especially in the USA, Australia and China who have been implementing straw bales in their housing construction.

Researchers have estimated that after wheat production and animal bedding, a remaining 3.8 million tonnes of straw is left. This is enough to build 500,000 new three bedroom homes that only require 7.2 tonnes of straw. Smashing.

Even though the big bad wolf blew the straw house down, we think we have learnt enough from research and short stories to learn from our mistakes. So let’s start the story again…three little pigs, one greedy wolf and one straw house. The greedy wolf kept trying to blow the house down for hours but the house was very strong and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried to enter through the chimney but the third little pig boiled a big pot of water and kept it below the chimney. The wolf fell into it and died.

The moral of the story? Technology wins.

The worlds largest wind farm approved for the Yorkshire coast

27 Feb

Ahhhh Great Britain…home to the Queen, tea-lovers, James Bond and the rain. Soon to be added to this impressive list is only the world’s largest offshore wind farm. It has been announced that the UK energy secretary has just approved an array of 400 turbines to be constructed around 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast in northern England.

The wind farm will be more than twice the size of the UK’s current biggest offshore wind farm and could satisfy 2.5% of the UK’s electricity needs. This is enough to power around two million homes. Smashing.

The project has been named ‘The Dogger Bank Creyke Beck Project’ due to its location being the Dogger Bank. It will cover around 430 square miles and cost £6bn to £8bn to build. A huge positive to the project is that it could support an estimated 900 new jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside.

The location of the project is ideal due to it having a shallow seabed, only around 30 meters deep. This will make it easier to set foundations and install the large turbines. Though there has been little exploration that could confirm this officially. If built at this location, the turbines will be the furthest offshore that has ever been attempted.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, states: “Making the most of Britain’s home-grown energy is creating jobs and businesses in the UK, getting the best deal for consumers and reducing our reliance on foreign imports. Wind power is vital to this plan, with £14.5bn invested since 2010 into an industry which supports 35,400 jobs.”

We do not manufacture the large wind turbines here in the UK, but the Department of Energy and Climate have said half the costs connected with building a wind farm are spent with UK businesses for their products and services. Construction of the first turbines could still be years away.

The last big offshore wind farm in the UK was the London Array. Sadly the project had some issues between 2005 and 2007 after gaining the government’s green light in a drawn out process. It led to investors withdrawing and the costs escalating. Nonetheless, the London Array came through strong with its 175 turbines and was installed in 2013.

Currently in the UK we have around 1,200 offshore wind turbines generating a total capacity of about 4GW. Impressive when you think of how tiny we are in this huge world.





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