There’s often a perception that our grey, overcast skies make solar power a virtual impossibility for all but a few weeks of the year. But two kinds of solar power are possible here – solar thermal to heat water, and photovoltaics (PV) to create electricity.
The most affordable of those options is solar thermal, which creates hot water from a rooftop panel.
The other type is Photovoltaics, meaning electricity from light. It uses silicon cells to charge electricity for powering household appliances. The high price of photovoltaics is still a deterrent but costs will start to come down over the next decade. Dr. Thomas Markvart of Southampton University says photovoltaics could provide a substantial amount of the electricity Britain needs, but the problem is trying to store that power for when we need it most – on dark winter evenings. At present there is no mechanism for storing electricity generated on long summer days for use in winter.
But an idea that is gathering force among a growing group of engineers, scientists and academics around the world is the plan to build large solar plants in the Sahara desert to provide enough electricity for the Middle East and North Africa and enough to export to Europe. Costing the Earth reports on the viability of solar power and visits Egypt where one of the first plants that could provide us with electricity is under construction.