First broadcast on 12 January 2021
Solar energy is cheap and clean, but it could be better. In this episode, Tom Heap discovers how.
Electricity from the sun is cheap and clean but the solar cells we see on our rooftops could be much more efficient. Henry Snaith of Oxford PV has developed a new material which helps solar roof panels extract more energy from the solar spectrum.
Tom Heap visits Henry's lab and joins Dr Tamsin Edwards to consider the carbon-cutting potential of a new generation of solar energy.
Listen now on BBC Radio 4
We asked Society Fellow, Professor Stephen Peake, a Professor of Climate Change and Energy at the Open University, to offer some observations on the potential of perovskite solar panels. His points take some of the themes of the programme a step further:
Solar photovoltaics (PV) is indeed a critical piece of the net zero, 100% renewables jigsaw. PV panels generated 665 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2019 from a global installed capacity of 603 GW (see table below). The global annual average capacity factor was just under 13% as the capacity factor for solar PV varies with solar irradiance conditions from around 10 to 20-25% max.
The question we are asking relates to what might happen if we double the capacity factor from a notional baseline of 20% to around 45%. 2019 IRENA report imagines 8519 GW of solar PV by 2050.
Solar panels on a rooftop (Image: Ulleo Pixabay)
Output per GW in TWh
MtCO2 per TWh 200 g
IEA (2020) World Energy Outlook Flagship Report, October 2020, p.344, Table A.3
IEA (2020) World Energy Outlook Flagship Report, October 2020
IEA (2018) Average annual capacity factors by technology
IRENA (2019) Future of solar photovoltaic: Deployment, investment, technology, grid integration and socio-economic aspects
39 ways to save the planet is a new radio series by BBC Radio 4 developed in partnership with the Society and broadcast in 2021. It showcases 39 ideas to relieve the stress that climate change is placing on the Earth. In each 15 minute episode Tom Heap and Dr Tamsin Edwards meet the people behind a fresh and fascinating idea to cut the carbon.
Over the course of 2021, the Society will be producing events and digital content to accompany the series.
Featured card image: BBC
Featured banner image: Pixabay
The Society has produced a free resource for teachers related to this episode.
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Discover the secret of low-carbon rice.
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