The Future of Solar Renewables in the UK
Let’s face it environmental science isn’t always so bright. At its core lies the ever-increasing reality that much of the natural world is devastated. However, in response to this devastation major changes in the way we produce energy are taking place. In particular, the optimization of the photovoltaic cell is revolutionizing energy supply for many European countries. Weary-eyed scientists struggling to feign optimism read on. There is, in fact, a literal bright side emerging out of today’s solar renewable energy!
But first… How exactly do photo-voltaic cells work?
Glad you asked! Each cell is a silicon- sunlight- sandwich. The bread is made of two layers of silicon that flank the top and bottom of the cell. (1). The filling is the sunlight photons that hit the middle of the cell. The top slice of silicon is doped with negatively charged phosphorus, and the bottom slice is doped with positively charged Boron (1). The opposing magnetic charges create a magnetic field. Thus, when a photon of light hits the middle of the cell, its electrons are ejected to the side of the cell where a metal conductor catches them and sends them through a wire(1). At this point, the electrons are flowing just like normal electricity(1).
Simple enough right? Well because of this self-sufficient electricity generating technology, more than 80% of UK citizens support solar power making it the most popular energy source for the country. Just 7 years ago solar power was nearly non-existent in the UK. However, today The UK is the world’s 6th largest producer of solar energy. In fact, about 3.8% of its total energy comes from photovoltaics. This means that the UK is producing around 12.1 GW of solar power a year, enough energy to power 3.8 million homes! Woo get hype.
There are two reasons for the UK’s increased usage of solar power.
First, in April 2010 the UK government implemented a Feed – in -Tariff, as an incentive to encourage individual homeowners and companies to invest in PVCs (photovoltaic cells) . The tariff required the UK government to pay 4.8p/kWh of the electric bill for solar panel users. This cuts energy bills in ½ for most UK residents.
The second reason is due to decreases in the costs of solar panels. Right now, a UK homeowner can expect to pay around 3000 pounds for a 4kW system. This can provide the average family with enough energy for a year. Some energy companies even subsidize half of the buy-in costs. Equally important, the price per panel drops at a rate of around 4.4% each year. This can be attributed to the ongoing switch from gallium and indium, pricey rare earth metals, to zinc and copper for panel production. Thus many UK citizens have decided to hop on the solar bandwagon while subsidies are still available and the tariff covers a portion of their electricity bills.
In 2017, the results of the switch to solar played out in the most incandescent ways.
First, on May 26 ,2017, at 1 pm, solar production hit an all-time- high of 8.7GW around 24.3% of total energy demand. In conjunction with production from wind and nuclear, 60% of the UK’s energy was low carbon that day (2)! Furthermore, Last summer, solar provided more energy than all 10 of the UK’s fire-powered coal stations (2). Lastly, in April 2017 the UK successfully achieved its first full working day without coal-powered electricity(2). This was in large part due to solar energy offsetting energy demand(2).
These trends are only expected to increase further this summer!
Thus, UK friends, your future’s so bright.
(1) Available at: https://www.livescience.com/41995-how-do-solar-panels-work.html
(2) Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/26/solar-power-breaks-uk-records-thanks-sunny-weather