How it works
There are several different systems which take advantage of the power generated from the Sun. The photovoltaic effect is when photo cells convert sunlight directly into electricity - this has been used for sometime to power certain calculators, for example. In this country, Photovoltaic cells (PV's) are being used as roof tiles. They cover the roof of a house and take advantage of the light coming from the Sun. This is trapped by the cell and turned into electricity.
Another way to take advantage of the energy from the Sun, is to design buildings so they can collect the heat. They do this by designing the building sensibly and facing it in a way where it can use the Sun to the maximum benefit. Large glass windows help with this, especially during the winter when the Sun is very low. In the summer, balconies and trees protect the building from getting too much heat.
A reasonably simple method of using the benefits of the Sun is to heat our water pipes. Painting the thin pipes black and putting them in a 'greenhouse' type insulator can heat our water supply and therefore reduce the cost of using electricity to heat it.
The use of solar power became very popular in the 1970s, but has fallen in and out of favour since depending on the potential savings when compared with fossil-fuel energy costs.
Local councils started fitting council houses with facilities to use solar power. Grants are now available to help homeowners make the switch to renewable energy.
As well as the fact that energy from the Sun is readily available, there are many other benefits. By locating photovoltaic cells on top of houses, no extra land space is needed and they can also be situated in urban areas, where there is plenty of available space.
In addition they are very easy to install, and although there are some high costs involved, they replace the need for other materials, such as tiles, to be used.
As with most renewable energy systems, there are initial costs which make setting up these projects, initially quite expensive. However, the savings on electricity bills in the long-term should make up for this and year on year, the costs are falling which will make it more widespread.
The technology now needed is 90% cheaper than it was in the 1970s. Houses with solar roof tiles can in fact generate more electricity than is needed at certain times in the day, and can sell this back to local electricity companies.
The UK is behind many other countries in Europe and the rest of the World when it comes to using solar power technologies. In Japan and the USA, billions has been spent on developing PV over a number of years, and more recently, Germany has started to push lots of money into the development of it for projects there.
By 2005 the government aims to have 6,000 roofs in the UK fitted with solar panels. By that time Germany expects to have 140,000 and Japan nearly 400,000.
In the Netherlands, different organisations - such as the government, local authorities, architects and power companies - work together to develop solar energy.
Within 10 years photo voltaic cells are likely to be competitive with conventional power sources. Projects being set up in the UK are being used as examples to illustrate the potential of solar power and its hoped these schemes will encourage businesses and members of the public to get involved with setting up similar developments.
We also need to see more large-scale projects established which are centrally funded with an energy-efficiency programme devised alongside it. We also need to establish more cooperation between different industries and governments, like in the Netherlands, which should in the long-run mean cheaper and more efficient systems being established.