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UK renewable energy sources: what is solar energy?


As coal-fired power stations close and the UK’s nuclear come to the end of their life, the UK is moving towards more renewable energy. Of the five main forms of renewable energy – solar, wind, hydro, biofuel and geothermal – solar is arguably the most obvious form of renewable energy. The sun has been used for thousands of years to heat and cool homes. Now it’s used to generate electricity for homes and businesses.

Solar energy

Taking an average of 8 minutes and 20 seconds for light to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to the Earth, enough sunlight reaches the earth in an hour to meet the energy demands of the world for a year!

Of the sunlight that reaches the Earth about 50% of the energy is absorbed by the Earth and 30% is reflected back into space. But the advantage of solar energy over other forms of fuel such as coal and gas is that it’s essentially an unlimited resource.

Solar panels

There are several different types of solar power used for homes and businesses: solar thermal energy (STE) and photovoltaic. Solar thermal systems use simple technology – the heat from the sun heats water for your home or business. Panels, usually on a roof absorb, the energy from the sun and heat the water which is then pumped through a coil into your hot water cylinder. Photovoltaic systems use sunlight to generate electricity with solar cells which convert energy into electrons.

Solar farms

Solar photovoltaic systems are getting ever larger. These solar farms or solar parks are being erected in rural areas and are used to generate electricity which is then sold to the national grid – rather than being used for local homes or businesses. One of the largest solar farms in the UK is on an old airfield at Wymeswold in Leicestershire. The solar farm has already generated 15% more energy than originally forecast.

One of the largest solar generating systems in the world is in the Mojave Desert in California. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System generates electricity by using around 300,000 mirrors which track the sun. These mirrors concentrate light onto a tower which heats water and creates steam which turns a turbine to generate electricity. Ivanpah generates clean renewable electricity for around 140,000 homes.

Take a look at our energy timeline infographic which shows how the way we source and use energy has changed over time or our wind energy article.

Business electricity bills

Solar power has yet to meet its full potential. While a few larger scale solar parks have been developed in the UK it’s still a relatively untapped resource. But by installing solar and thermal solar panels on your home or business, you could reduce your business electricity bills.

A simpler way to reduce your business energy costs is by using a comparison site such as SwitchMyBusiness.com to compare energy prices. It’s a simple process – just complete the form to the top right of this page or call 0800 411 8830 for a quick quote.

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