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Renewable Energy

Some experts predict that our natural reserves of oil will be almost exhausted by 2050.  Itís true that thereís lots of new oil coming from Africa and Russia but as soon as these new reserves come on-line they flow, with ever increasing demand to countries like China and India. No one really knows for sure how much we've got left and thereís definitely no need to panic. Besides which running out of the stuff wonít be the problem because long before itís all gone it will be too expensive! In any case, itís probably fair to say that our "tankĒ is less than half full and we do know, beyond doubt that we need to consume less energy and produce less carbon.

We all have free access to a huge environmentally friendly solar power station that beams down energy on our roofs and gardens that's just got to be used for something more than just a sun tan! Renewable energy is the only inexhaustible source of power for the future.

We have all felt the temperature of water from a garden hose left in the sun, enjoyed the gentle heat radiating from a sunbathed evening wall, or moved a pocket calculator into the light to help the tiny solar panel power bring it back to life.

Heating things up and generating electricity are two great ways of using all that free renewable energy. Both require a different type of solar panel that captures the solar energy in two different ways.

Solar solar panels for heating are an extension of the hose pipe in the garden. Known as solar thermal panels they are simply painted copper plates & tubes exposed to the sun in an insulated, aluminum framed box. The box is weather proofed with a sheet of toughened treated glass that traps the energy in (pretty much like the glass of a greenhouse)

Iíve seen solar panels made out of an old radiator by painting it black, mounting it in a glazed wooden box and pointing it at the sun! Add a pump, some piping and a tank and voila; it really can be that simple (but a bit heavy)

DIY Solar panel   Copper pipe and wooden box picture for DIY solar panel

Storing the the renewable energy is also easy. Just let the Sunís solar energy heat up lots of water and store it in an highly insulated solar thermal tank. Use it for your hot water and if you've enough of it, pump it around the radiators or under floor heating

Solar panels that generate electricity are more complicated. Serious chemistry and physics are required to manufacture the dozens of tiny interconnected solar cells for a panel that produces useful electricity. Known as solar photovoltaic panels they are usually installed in multiples called arrays or strings. Itís possible to make your own solar PV panel by buying solar cells and connecting them together in series but itís generally cheaper to buy a premade one from a reputable online solar panel shop.

Solar panel system diagram

Storing the solar electricity means connecting the solar panels, via a charger to batteries. The stored electricity can then be used to power domestic appliances and lights after converting it to mains voltage using an Inverter. If you don't wan't to convert the electricity in to mains you can always use 12 volt solar lights or low voltage TVs and radios etc. 

Because batteries can be expensive itís popular to use your own electricity when itís available and the grid when itís not (during the night) Itís also possible to sell the electricity you produce back to the grid. Know as grid tie solar systems because the solar PV panels are connected or "tied" to the grid using an inverter. Fancy sending them a bill bigger than the one they send you? Oh joy! Make hay when the sun shines using renewable energy.

Example of a grid tie system for selling solar energy to the grid

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