Sunning it up: five things you need to know about solar energy | Smarter science

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Every hour, enough solar power hits our planet to meet humanity’s energy needs for a year. So why aren’t we using it as one of our main sources of power? Well, as new technologies are helping us unlock more of the sun’s energy, the hope is that it will be key to our greener future. Here are five things you need to know about solar energy …

900,000 buildings in the UK have solar panels
The number of homes in Britain that have solar panels on the roof is heading towards one million and, if more of us sign up, solar energy could seriously boost Britain’s efforts to switch away from coal-fired power stations. The Solar Trade Association says that if 4.4m British homes were equipped with solar panels and battery set-ups, this could eliminate the evening surge in electricity demand on a winter’s day, reducing consumption at peak times by 97% annually.

Solar is not only good for the environment, it makes financial sense too. The price of solar panels has dropped by up to 25% in recent years, with the average solar home having 12-16 panels at a cost of around £5,000 – potentially saving savvy homeowners hundreds of pounds a year on their energy bills.

Nearly a million UK homes now have solar panels. Photograph: yevtony/Getty Images/iStockphoto

China has a solar farm in the shape of a panda
If there’s one thing you need to know about solar energy, surely it’s this? You might be surprised to hear that China is the world leader in both solar photovoltaic energy (which turns sunlight into electricity) and solar thermal energy (which uses sunlight as a source of heat). And what’s more, in 2017, China Merchants New Energy Group – one of the country’s largest clean energy operators – unveiled the Panda Power Plant in Datong, which will produce 3.2bn kilowatt-hours of solar energy over 25 years. The eye-catching design was created to raise awareness of clean energy among young people.

Smart meters and home batteries will make solar panels more viable
The holy trinity of solar panels, smart meters and home batteries will be key to helping shift Britain away from our reliance on polluting fossil fuels at peak times. How? Well, home batteries can store the power generated by solar panels for use on duller days – which makes solar a much more viable option for places like the UK, where sun is never guaranteed. Smart meters have been specifically designed to work with solar panels and, as the technology develops, in-home displays that come as part of an installation may also be able to reflect the energy you’re generating yourself from solar panels. On a national scale, smart meters help Britain to use more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Dubai is home to one of the world’s biggest solar parks
For most of us, the United Arab Emirates is associated with fossil fuel wealth – but the UAE has unveiled several vast solar projects. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park near Dubai is one of the largest in the world, and will provide energy for 320,000 homes, delivering 1.6m tonnes of carbon emission reduction per year. The plant spreads over 44 sq km, and also breaks the world record for the tallest solar tower on Earth.

Solar tiles could be the new solar panels
Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk doesn’t just design flashy cars and spaceships – he’s also a solar power pioneer. Not only has he sold more than 100,000 units of Tesla’s Powerwall home battery, but he’s recently created a line of solar roof tiles – which look just like normal roof tiles but harness the sun’s power like a solar panel. Sharing his vision for a solar-powered future on Twitter, he said: “Solar power will feed exclusively to Powerwall. Powerwall will interface only between utility meter and house main breaker panel, enabling super simple install and seamless whole house backup during utility dropouts.” We’re sold!

Join the energy revolution and contact your energy supplier to request a smart meter. For more information visit

This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB – the not-for-profit, government-backed campaign helping everyone in Britain to understand the importance of smart meters and their benefits to people and the environment.

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