Posted on 7th July 2017 by Alex Heys
Earlier this year, on a sunny March weekend, the UK broke its solar energy record for the first time ever, meaning that the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses in the daytime in the UK was lower than in the night time, because so much of the demand in the day was met by solar. To put it another way, on that day, six times as much electricity was generated by solar than by coal.
This marks a significant shift in the journey of the UK becoming more sustainable and accelerating its use of renewable energy. With solar energy now more affordable, it is fast-becoming more accessible to UK households and businesses who are adopting solar energy at a remarkable rate. Here’s a selection of five lesser-known facts about solar energy:
The Ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to make the most of solar energy in their architecture designs, by building south facing windows in homes allowing the sun to heat and light indoor spaces. The Romans had large glass windows in their bathhouses to heat the buildings and bath water, and even built sun rooms with laws that guaranteed ‘sun rights’ to prevent neighbouring housebuilders from blocking out the sun.
The Greeks were also pioneering in their use of glass and mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to light fires. It is thought that Greek scientist Archimedes succeeded in setting fire to enemy ships by arranging bronze shields to redirect the sun at the advancing fleet in the 2nd Century BC.
Space missions and satellites use solar energy to power spaceships, by relying on the use of solar panels to derive energy from sunlight. This technique has been used since the US launched the Vanguard 1 satellite in 1958. It was the fourth artificial Earth orbital satellite but the first to be solar powered.
The tiny grapefruit-sized satellite stopped transmitting information in 1964, yet remains in space as the oldest piece of debris still up there today. It did however set a precedent for space missions to come, with far bigger space missions still harnessing solar power in this way.
Closer to home, many countries on planet Earth are turning to solar power as an energy source, however the speed at which it is being adopted has been relatively slow due to the upfront investment cost of installing solar energy panels.
This is set to change. The cost of solar panels has fallen approximately 100 times over since 1977. Solar panels in 2017 cost 25% of the price they did in 2010, and the cost continues to fall, which has culminated in a massive growth in the solar energy market in recent years. China is leading the way as the biggest producer of solar energy, followed by Germany, Japan and the USA.
Despite its historically sluggish uptake of solar energy, the UK is finally catching up with other countries and currently ranks in sixth place in the world for its solar energy use. Many Brits may have been put off investing in solar panels in the past, however these costs have plummeted in recent years.
Furthermore, solar panels have low maintenance and running costs, and can last up to 35 years, which means a short-term investment for a longer-term gain when it comes to reducing energy bills for homeowners.
Now that the cost of solar energy is more affordable, more UK businesses are turning to green initiatives in a bid to cut down their carbon footprints. Leon, the high street food chain, recently announced that it was planning to power its stores with 100 per cent solar energy over the summer months, making the most of the sunny weather whilst reducing its carbon footprint in the process.
Still need some convincing on the positives of solar power? Find out more about the benefits of solar energy here.
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