Think solar not nuclear for the energy of the future, say UK scientists

Mar 02, 2006
Think solar not nuclear for the energy of the future, say scientists

Solar rather than nuclear energy should be the UK government's priority in planning future energy production, according to scientists writing this week in the journal Nature Materials.

Challenging advocates of the nuclear option, researchers from Imperial College London argue in their Commentary article that photovoltaics, the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity, could match and exceed the nuclear industry's current output before any new reactor could begin operating.

The UK currently generates 12 gigawatts of electricity from nuclear power stations, around one sixth of the country's total electricity output. This is the same amount of electricity that it is predicted Germany will generate through photovoltaics by 2012 if it continues to expand its solar energy programme at its present rate.

The researchers write that the UK, which has a similar sunshine profile to Germany, could produce 12 gigawatts of solar electricity by 2023 if production is expanded by 40% per year, less than the world increase of 57% in 2004.

However, in contrast to other developed countries, the UK has recently halted its programme of solar panel installation on 3,500 rooftops halfway through. This compares to the completed installation of 70,000 installations in Japan and 100,000 in Germany. Lead author Professor Keith Barnham of Imperial College London says:

"The UK is clearly taking a very different decision to its industrial competitors and, I believe, a less sensible one. The sun is our largest sustainable energy source and the technology needed to tap into it is very simple. As research continues, this will become an increasingly cheap and efficient way of meeting our energy needs."

One obstacle to the development of a competitive solar energy industry in the UK, according to the article, is a pro-nuclear bias within its scientific and government establishments. Pointing out that the UK Research Councils spent seven times more in 2004-2005 on nuclear fusion research and development than it did on photovoltaic research, Professor Barnham says:

"Fusion is still perhaps 40 years away from being effectively developed and in any case is likely to produce electricity at one quarter the electrical power density which the solar cells that we are working on are already producing in London. It's absurd that these funding bodies are putting huge amounts of money into something that may not deliver rather than supporting something that already does."

The next generation of photovoltaic cells, known as quantum well cells, now under development convert direct sunlight and can track the sun to keep light focussed on the cell. Early testing suggests that these concentrated systems could produce twice as much electricity per unit area as the conventional systems now in use. Professor Barnham adds:

"These new cells are highly efficient and are based on technologies similar to those used for the amplifiers in mobile phones, so the ability to manufacture them on a large scale is already in place. This is the kind of technology the UK should be investing in if we are serious about producing pollution-free energy."

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: Scars on Mars from 2012 rover landing fade—usually

Related Stories

Nanostructure complex materials modeling  

23 hours ago

Materials with chemical, optical, and electronic properties driven by structures measuring billionths of a meter could lead to improved energy technologies—from more efficient solar cells to longer-lasting ...

Solar beam collectors, key to enhancing solar power

21 hours ago

New technologies could soon bring more effective ways of harvesting solar power. That is the case with small size concentrated solar power, or CSP. It is a relatively new technology compared to the more mature photovoltaic ...

As wind power booms, Texas lawmakers consider yanking support

Mar 24, 2015

Thousands of wind turbines have sprung up across West Texas and up and down the Gulf Coast. Companies as diverse as Google and Dow Chemical are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Texas in a race to lower their carbon ...

Scientists build a nanolaser using a single atomic sheet

Mar 24, 2015

University of Washington scientists have built a new nanometer-sized laser—using the thinnest semiconductor available today—that is energy efficient, easy to build and compatible with existing electronics.

Recommended for you

Europe resumes Galileo satnav deployment (Update)

Mar 27, 2015

Europe resumed deployment of its beleaguered Galileo satnav programme on Friday, launching a pair of satellites seven months after a rocket malfunction sent two multi-million euro orbiters awry.

More evidence for groundwater on Mars

Mar 27, 2015

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.