A Makeover for Solar Panels

Chloe Uden and Naomi Wright

Solar panels, while useful and extremely valuable in the world of renewables, are often thought to be ugly, especially when on the top of your house!

A new project in Devon has begun and artists have started to look at ways to improve them aesthetically. The hope is to use art to improve the look of the solar panels and make them more pleasing to the eye. Chloe Uden and Naomi Wright are behind the community company Art and Energy. The funding they have received has been from the EU. Many of their ideas include shapes and pictures such as flowers and sculptures.

Some people have expressed reluctance to get solar panels because of the way they look and worry their appearance could de-value their home. Whilst the positives of having solar panels generally outweighs the negatives, people involved in this project believe that improvements can be made to encourage people to install solar. One feature on one of their solar sculptures is a phone charging point!

Art and Energy are a company of artists who wish to use their skills to make a difference to the climate problem currently being tackled all over the world. They believe their work can take everyday renewable energy systems and make them creative and beautiful. They believe they can create renewable energy systems that people want in their homes, encouraging more people to make the switch and helping the environment along the way.

The company has been running since 2018 and are based in Exeter, also doing work in Plymouth and Honiton. They have many dates and exhibitions where they show the work they are doing.

The EU and Climate Targets

EU

Climate change targets in the European Union are on track to be met by 2020. Of the 28 countries in the EU, 11 of them have not only met their targets but surpassed them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all countries with some bringing up the rear. This means that for them to meet their intended 2020 and 2030 targets they will need an extra push to get there.

Leading the way for the EU are Sweden, Finland and Denmark. These countries have made a difference from the beginning with over half of their energy coming from renewables by 2012. Finland and Denmark’s main source is hydroelectric power which produces around 40 percent of the country’s overall usage. Biofuels are used as the main source of heat in Sweden.

In the EU, the countries with the lowest percent of renewables are Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Whilst investments have been made by these countries, they are far from reaching their targets and have been very much left behind by the rest of the EU. The Netherland’s biggest investment has been in offshore windfarms and they were also ordered by a court in 2015 to reduce their greenhouse gasses by 25%.  Despite this, the percentage of renewables remains at 6.6 percent and 6.4% in both the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

If you compare the Netherland’s mere 6.6% to France, you will see how far they have yet to come, France having a total of 16.3% of consumption that comes from renewables. France has a target of 23% for 2020. Biofuels are not the leading source of renewable energy in France, which instead favours wood and hydro power. The country has heavily invested in Nuclear, leading to 70% of electricity coming from this source. By 2022, the plan is for all of that to change. The government has promised to shut down 14 nuclear power plants along with its active coal plants in favour of renewable sources.

Another country planning on fazing out coal usage is Germany. In Germany, coal has always been, and continues to be, a major leader in the industry. The country’s policies now focus on cutting down its coal usage, currently 37% of electricity and 30% of heating coming from coal. This will need to be done over the next few years, being reduced gradually to ensure climate targets are met.

Each country’s targets are based on their individual situations, so all are different. However, they are all expected to meet these targets by 2025. The targets range from 10 – 14 %.

Eurostat said:

 “While the EU as a whole is on course to meet its 2020 targets, some member states will need to make additional efforts to meet their obligations.”

German Coal conversion to Heat Pump Energy Storage

German coal plant

Germany, like many other countries, has coal plants used to produce power all over the country. However, due to new investments in renewables and tackling climate change, it is now being investigated whether these coal plants could be used as energy storage assets instead. The German aerospace centre has been investigating this possibility. 

The idea involves using a molten salt storage tank in place of the old coal boiler and excess power produced by renewables will be used as heat for the tank. It is thought that the coal plants still being in use, could save many jobs which would otherwise be lost by their closure.  Another advantage of these storage plants would be their capacity of tens of gigawatts of extra power available to be used to power the country. The German grid may well be powered more by renewables than anything else if these changes take place. 

A pilot project is soon to take place and the results will be crucial to the development of more similar projects. Just one project could prove the success of the use of coal plants as renewable storage and it is hoped it could up and running within three years. The technology used is called a Carnot battery.  

A Carnot battery is used to turn electricity into heat. It is seen as environmentally friendly and is fairly inexpensive. Carnot batteries are a relatively new technology in renewables. The heat is stored in molten salt or water and can be turned back into electricity when needed, making these the ideal solution in renewable storage. Carnot batteries have been researched by DLR since 2014, the main challenge being to make the salt storage and batteries fit within the coal plant. 

Many utility companies in Germany have been hoping for longer use of coal plants, however they have now been given a cut off date with many plants being closed by 2023 and even more planned by 2030. This seems like the sensible option – to reuse the infrastructure and save many jobs in the industry. 

Whilst there is the challenge of fitting the technology into the existing infrastructure, it is not thought that cost will be huge. Energy is converted into heat at a temperature between 90°C and 500°C using a high-temperature heat pump, these are called Carnot batteries and they offer really good value as there will be no need for much building works due to using the old coal plants to house the new boilers and batteries. Grid connections are already available making the projects cheaper and easier to reuse.

While Germany hope to use the Carnot batteries, they also hope to use them in harmony with lithium ion batteries. This means there is backup power available, renewables could be used from the grid and when this power becomes low, for example in winter months, lithium ion batteries could provide the extra power needed. Some of the coal plants could remain, with coal boilers as well as the new salt boilers for emergency backup if necessary. 

Johnathan Walters said: 

“You’re going to lose the lignite jobs,” he said, but “you’re going to save the power plant jobs and you’re going to save some of the physical assets that would otherwise be written off.”  

UK’s Long Term Water Issues

Reservoir UK

There are new concerns from the environment agency that the UK could face water shortages in the future. The number of people living in the UK is rising and climate change means our weather is warmer than average. Concerns have been rising over recent years and the environment agency released a report outlining the concerns about the amount and quality of rainfall. 

The population in the UK will rocket to 75 million before 2050, which could cause problems in many areas and one of those is likely to be water. Up to 150 litres of water per person is used every day and much of that usage is wasted water. This has prompted the environment agency to look at ways to educate people on how to reduce the amount of water being used. Suggestions include shorter showers, water meters and toilets that use less water.  

Climate change is also a factor in the future of water shortage, the weather in the UK being warmer on average and continuing to get warmer. Experts predict hotter summers and with drier weather on the rise, droughts are naturally becoming more of a worry. Another thing we may see more of is extreme rainfall that is much less predictable and not consistent. Many things are being done to address climate change, but damage has already been done and we still may see some consequences of this in the future. 

Waterwise, a charity who advise people on water usage, have urged the public to reduce their water usage to 100 litres a day or less to aid the potential problems. With the summer months fast approaching and water usage set to rise due to the use of hosepipes and paddling pools, James Bevan, who works for the environment agency, has commented that we need to re think our approach to water. 

It is thought that the approach taken to energy and the new laws and legislation for new housing and energy usage should be implemented with water also. Currently there are no rules or regulations concerning water. While new houses do have some water efficiency devices, this is as far as it goes, and older houses still have the problem of having to completely re-do their water systems ,which of course costs money and time. 

One of the main issues that needs to be addressed in the UK is leaks, which is a major problem for water wastage. Unfortunately digging up pipes to fix these leaks causes much disruption to transport. Other ideas are now being tested to make the water systems in the UK more efficient. One project involves transporting water from the River Severn to the river Thames. Local residents don’t always approve of these new schemes and other projects, such as new reservoirs, are being put on hold due to concerns environmentally. Over all, more needs to be done to conserve our water supply and public backing is important to ensure an abundance of water in the future.

 “this is something we have to value, it’s something we have a collective responsibility for.” Said Adrian butler