Combatting climate change through solar power
Growing concerns about climate change and the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels is increasing the demand for cleaner and safer forms of energy. The renewables industry, particularly solar power, are at the forefront of combatting global warming.
Solar power is already starting to replace electricity generated from coal and gas, reducing the carbon emissions associated with electricity generation.
Aside from the environmental benefits of solar technology, it can also be deployed on a smaller, local scale. Consequently, the technology is increasingly prevalent in places where there is no power grid, creating easy access to green and inexpensive electricity.
At present, solar energy accounts for around 1% of global electricity generation, but it is likely to play a much greater role in the future, with solar generation increasing exponentially since 2000. China is perhaps the best example of the global advancement in solar power. China’s installed solar power capacity has grown from 10GW in 2010 to 112GW in summer of 2017, exceeding the 2020 target three years ahead of schedule! China currently boasts the two biggest solar farms in the world, with the largest covering about 1,200 square kilometres.
However, optimising solar as a source of energy poses several challenges, such as:
- How do we overcome the inherent intermittent production that even large-scale solar plants suffer from?
- Is sufficient land available to meet a growing electricity demand?
- How can businesses, that are major consumers of electricity, take advantage of the increased accessibility of solar?
Limiting factors of large scale solar technology and possible solutions
The two main limiting factors of solar technology:
- Land space
Large solar farms require a large amount of space, as electricity generation is directly proportional to the surface area covered. Therefore, the largest solar farms in the world are built in deserts and huge open spaces in India and China. However, this is not feasible in smaller countries with restricted landmass, or even for larger countries where a land trade-off develops – for example, should land be used for agriculture or renewable energy?
To combat the land space issue, floating solar systems built on bodies of water, such as lakes or reservoirs, are growing in popularity. China is currently building the worlds largest floating solar power plant on a water-filled collapsed coal mine, known as the Three Gorges area, soon to be completed in May 2018. A solar system on water is actually 10% more efficient than on land as the water cools the surrounding air, allowing less dust to settle on the solar panels, and subsequently increasing the solar rays that reach each solar panel.
- Insufficient storage technology
Electricity is either used straight away, stored or wasted. As the sun only shines during the day, there is a huge demand for large-scale electrical power storage in order to meet night time demand – essential if the world is to become more dependent on solar power. Large-scale energy storage technology is at present not particularly efficient and is very expensive. However, there is considerable research and investment conducted in this area by companies such as Tesla to overcome the issue. Possible options include hydroelectric energy storage, batteries and molten salt energy storage, all of which need further research and development in order to be used on a large scale.
Exciting innovations in solar technology
New and innovative technology is emerging with the rise of solar power generation. Further to breakthroughs over the past few years in the materials used in solar photovoltaic cells and efficiency improvements, one of the most notable innovations is the integration of solar technology into infrastructure, such as solar roads.
Solar roads are a remarkable example of sustainable innovation; they comprise solar slabs, that can be individually replaced if needed, which produce renewable energy. This energy powers LED lamps that light roads at night and provides the power required for the thermal heating capacity that can melt the snow during winter.
Even better, they are produced from mostly recyclable material! Installing solar roadways on a global scale has the capacity to produce huge amounts of solar energy whilst simultaneously reducing the power demand for road markings, signs and street lights.
Implementation of solar power on a smaller scale – how can your business take advantage?
With the constant development of solar power, businesses are now able to install solar panels and take advantage on a smaller scale. Unlike other renewable sources of energy, such as wind and tidal power, solar power has the same efficiency at all sizes, meaning that smaller scale installations are widely feasible with multiple benefits. This has driven the development of off-grid solar cells for businesses. Constant advances in the efficiency of production and small-scale battery storage improvements continually make it an ever more viable option, as opposed to grid electricity.
The business case for solar is becoming more compelling. Through installing solar panels at your business, not only will you save on electricity costs, particularly given the likely rise of electricity unit prices, but also benefit from subsidies such as the feed-in-tariff– a financial incentive developed by the UK government to install solar panels.
Benefits of installing solar PV to your business:
- Reduced carbon emissions associated with electricity consumption
- Reduced electricity cost by generating your own electricity rather than purchasing from the grid
- Revenue generation through government incentives that pay per kWh for solar electricity generated
- Improved environmental credentials – shows that your business is taking measures to reduce its carbon footprint
Carbon Smart has assisted many businesses in the implementation of solar PV across the UK, helping them to address the challenges highlighted above and take advantage of the latest solar innovations. We recently conducted a feasibility study to assess the potential for Burnham Parish Council to reduce its buildings carbon emissions through the solar installations. Following the study, Burnham Parish Council is progressing with the installation of solar panels on two council-owned community buildings.
The installations will save the council electricity equivalent to the usage of 21 homes per year and the associated energy costs.
With the rapid advancement in the scale of deployment and technical innovations, such as solar roads and floating solar plants, solar will continue to represent a growing proportion of the world’s electricity. Smaller scale solar for businesses will only become more efficient and thus economically viable, ultimately reducing the carbon emissions of businesses and the UK’s electricity grid. Your business can too be a part of this change and reap the benefits of solar technology.
If your business needs help with realising the benefits of deploying solar technologies, feel free to get in touch with us.