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.
The photovoltaic effect is when photo cells convert sunlight directly into electricity - this has been used for sometime to power certain calculators, for example. Photovoltaic cells (PV's) can be 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.
More common method in the UK is using the benefits of the sun 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.
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. The technology now needed is about 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.
However 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. China has pledged to throw its economic might behind a national solar plan and the government has committed to raising its share of renewable energy to 6%, from the current 1.5%.
Alternative energy sources: