About Solar Energy
EVERY HOUR the sun beams more energy onto the Earth’s surface than we need to satisfy global energy requirements FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. Solar energy is an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution and noise free, making solar farms a completely environmentally friendly way to meet ever increasing demand for clean electrical energy.
Converting Solar Energy into Solar Power
The production of solar electricity relies on active solar technology. The most commonly encountered system for solar electricity production are solar photovoltaic cells (Solar PV). Solar photovoltaics is the term given to the conversion of light energy to electricity using solar cells joined together in panels called PV modules.
The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.
Growth of Renewables
Numerous factors, including energy security and environmental concerns caused by global warming, have fuelled the rise of clean, renewable power generation. Most importantly, however, is that the cost of renewable wind and solar power generation continues to plummet due to technological advances, and are now on par or cheaper than fossil fuel generated electricity in many areas of the world. Solar presently accounts for about 3% of world electricity production, but is expected to become a significant source of electricity supply, and could be the world’s largest source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.
Growth of Renewables
The renewable energy sector is growing, with much of the gains driven by a single technology: solar panels. The current significant growth and interest in solar energy production is due to a number of factors, including:
Of these factors, the most important is the strong emphasis that governments have placed on renewable energy production. This is best exemplified by the 2030 climate and energy framework which sets the following key targets for 2030:
- At least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels)
- At least 32% share for renewable energy
- At least 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency
Competition – Other Technologies
Oil and Gas
In 2013, for the first time, there was more renewable power generation capacity (143 Gw) built than fossil fuel power generation capacity (141 Gw). This shift, where renewable power generation outpaces and replaces fossil fuel power generation is forecast to accelerate, and by 2030 it is expected that more than four (4) times as much renewable capacity will be added each year. Oil / Gas power fired stations are no longer seen as a good use of a finite resource and solar is already comparable in price to electricity generated from oil / gas. With the current geo-political threat of Russia, governments are even more committed to supporting renewable power generation.
Hydro continues to have limited deployment due to cost and lack of suitable sites. There is potential for further practical and viable hydroelectricity power stations but the very nature of the remote and rugged geographic locations of some of these potential sites, in national parks or other areas of outstanding natural beauty, it is likely that environmental concerns would mean that a large number of them would be deemed not to be suitable, or could not be developed to their full potential. Hydro is likely to remain a niche option for electricity generation.
There has been a substantial deployment of wind assets throughout Europe over the last ten years. However, during the past few years, further deployment has experienced a significant and sustained community-based backlash. Governments are ending support for new onshore wind farms. This, along with the ongoing difficulties in getting planning approvals, will mean that onshore wind will struggle to deliver further assets.
Offshore wind receives more public support than onshore wind, and it is expected to continue to receive financial support from governments. However, it remains more than 70% more expensive than onshore wind and the gap between the cost of offshore wind and solar is continuing to widen as the cost of solar continues to fall.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Fracking continues to suffer setbacks, a large-scale fracking proposal was refused planning in the UK, there is significant public resistance to fracking and the industry is likely to face an uphill battle in securing planning permission for future proposals.