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Solar Energy Potential in the UK

Updated on July 7, 2010

  One might think, the UK doesn’t stand much of chance with solar energy for their brief summer days and generally cloudy sky. However, the UK receives on an average half the amount of energy per square foot from sun as the countries on the equator, and that is more valuable to UK than those countries. The first boom in solar collectors mounted on roof was witnessed in 1970s, however the boom faded soon despite the fact that domestic heating bills were reduced by as much as half. The next boom was witnessed in 80s following the oil price shocks. Local councils initiated new solar council house projects. In London, for instance, there were more than 200 solar houses in use by the end of the reign of Greater London Council. Similarly, Milton Keynes Development Corporation strove to develop the new city of Milton Keynes into a solar showplace with their offering of more than 300 solar housing projects. The emphasis was also gradually shifting away from roof top solar heat collectors on individual houses. For instance, the Greater London Council supported the group heating scheme – an array of solar collectors feeding a common hot water store – shared by 15 dwelling units. The system improved the overall economics. These solar collectors were known as active solar collectors for they needed small pumps to drive the heated water around. Consequently, there was a switch to more cost effective passive solar heaters. A well insulated house can cut the annual electricity bill by a third. Therefore solar insulation is gaining popularity. Passive solar design is now a reality in modern architectural practices. Milton Keynes has around 200 passive solar council houses. Although solar energy is becoming a reality in the UK, it has been slow process mainly because it hadto compete unaided against heavily subsidised conventional fuels. The few that opted for solar have been environmentally conscious people committed to a sustainable future. There have been several new innovative dimensions to solar collectors of late to improve heat collection, but the big breakthrough is in the offing in the field of photo voltaic cells that convert solar energy directly into electricity as for intance in calculators, and the other electronic gadgets like cameras. This energy is expensive and is likely to be more popular usage once they become economical. Initially used to power space satellites, the developments in semi-conductor field made them relatively economical. It is expected that within years they will be competitive with conventional power. We can then expect solar electricity or pv cells in conventional domestic usage, as they are even now in far-flung rural areas and desert regions without grid electricity. Photo voltaic cells are popularly used in remote African and Asian villages for water pumping, running fridges for essential medical suppliesand powering remote telecommunications. We might witness more wider application of solar energy in near future. The UK has probably missed the pv revolution where nations like Japan, Germany and the U.S are ahead as they have invested billions of dollars in solar projects. Until recently, the UK governement was quite dismissive of its potential, and in 1982 the government withdrew further support to active solar projects, while passive solar continued to be supported. In consequence, most of the power companies witheld active work on solar energy, while only few companies like BP continued to engage in the manufacture of the pv cells for export market. In recent years, there has been a change in government’s approach following reports of a bright future of the solar market. For instance, large scale experiments with solar power has been witnessed across the world, an example of which is giant solar heat concentrating mirrors and dishes tracking sun’s movement and generating electricity. These large thermal solar plants are becoming increasing popular in the desert regions of America

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