Photovoltaics

A typical onshore turbine can generate as much as 6 million kWh per year.1 That’s enough energy to power some 1,500 homes.2 The question is, could onshore turbines provide us with enough energy to replace our existing fossil fuel power plants?

What Are Photovoltaics?

Photovoltaics actually describes the process of converting light into electricity at an atomic level.3 This is made possible by some very special materials that have a property known as the photoelectric effect.4 This means that, as photovoltaics absorb photons of light, they also release electrons.5 These electrons are then captured to form an electric current that can be used to power anything from mobile phones to satellites.6 The exact amount of energy photovoltaics can generate depends on the amount of light striking their surface and how efficient they are at converting light into electrical energy. Currently, the most cost-effective photovoltaic systems convert between 14% and 20% of the energy contained within the light into electricity.7 However, there are systems on the market that convert as much as 45% of the light into electricity.8 These panels are extremely expensive though, and are mainly used by organisations such as NASA.9 Currently, photovoltaics produce less than one one-thousandth of the world’s energy demand.10 Nevertheless, photovoltaics have the potential to produce an incredible 470 PWh.11 That’s more than four times the world’s current energy demand.12

What’s Good About Them?

  • The energy source has huge global potential.
  • They are less visually intrusive than other devices.
  • They require limited amounts of maintenance.13
  • They operate without making any noise.14

What’s Bad About Them?

  • The energy supply is intermittent as there is no sunlight available during the night.15
  • Cloudy weather can affect energy yields.16
  • They can be expensive in areas that have limited sunlight.17

How Much Area Do We Need?

If we pretend the United Kingdom received as much sunlight as southern Spain, less than 2% of the UK’s land would need to be covered with photovoltaics in order to meet the country’s energy demand.18

What Do They Look Like?

To be completed.

Where Are Onshore Turbines Best Located?

Photovoltaics work best when they are located in sunny countries, like those close to the equator. In fact, in these locations, they can be three times more cost effective than they are in northern Europe.19

How Do They Perform?

¢7/KWH2030 Years21300 GWH22
Energy PriceLife Spanper KM² per Year
12 Years237.5 Years24470 PWH25
Economic OffsetEnergy OffsetWorld Potential

How Do They Rate?

Value for Money|★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Reliability|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Eco-friendliness|★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Global Potential|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Overall|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Onshore Turbines in a Nutshell

To be completed.

Image Credit

Title image taken by dvoevnore and reproduced under license from Adobe Stock.

United States map created by SUPER RADICAL.

Image of photovoltaic farm taken by abriendomundo and reproduced under license from Shutterstock.

World map created by SUPER RADICAL. World map based on all areas that receive more than 1,800 kWh of sunlight except for any areas that are covered with forests, cropland, mountains or significant quantities of ice. Irradiation information sourced from SolarGIS – ‘Global Horizontal Irradiation’ – Map. Cropland cover based on 2000 data and sourced from Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network – ‘Croplands, 2000: Global’. Areas of forest cover sourced from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – ‘Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005, Progress Towards Sustainable Forest Management’ – Page 15. Areas of mountain and ice cover sourced from Koistinen, Ville – ‘The Main Biomes in the World’ – commons.wikimedia.org.

Article Endnotes

  1. European Wind Energy Association – 'Wind Energy's Frequently Asked Questions' – www.ewea.org.
  2. European Wind Energy Association – 'Wind Energy's Frequently Asked Questions' – www.ewea.org.
  3. Knier, Gil – ‘How Do Photovoltaics Work?’ – science.nasa.gov.
  4. Knier, Gil – ‘How Do Photovoltaics Work?’ – science.nasa.gov.
  5. Knier, Gil – ‘How Do Photovoltaics Work?’ – science.nasa.gov.
  6. Knier, Gil – ‘How Do Photovoltaics Work?’ – science.nasa.gov.
  7. Thomas, David – ‘Which Solar Panel Brand Is Best? How Much Should I Expect to Pay?’ – www.theecoexperts.co.uk.
  8. Thomas, David – ‘Which Solar Panel Brand Is Best? How Much Should I Expect to Pay?’ – www.theecoexperts.co.uk.
  9. Thomas, David – ‘Which Solar Panel Brand Is Best? How Much Should I Expect to Pay?’ – www.theecoexperts.co.uk.
  10. Based on 2012 data sourced from International Energy Agency – ‘World: Renewables and Waste for 2012’ – www.iea.org.
  11. Hoogwijk, Monique and Graus, Wina – ‘Global Potential of Renewable Energy Sources: A Literature Assessment’ – Page 39.
  12. Please note, figure does not include power conditioning, distribution and transmission losses.
  13. Maehlum, Mathias Aarre – ‘Solar Energy Pros and Cons’ – energyinformative.org.
  14. Maehlum, Mathias Aarre – ‘Solar Energy Pros and Cons’ – energyinformative.org.
  15. Maehlum, Mathias Aarre – ‘Solar Energy Pros and Cons’ – energyinformative.org.
  16. Maehlum, Mathias Aarre – ‘Solar Energy Pros and Cons’ – energyinformative.org.
  17. Based on less sunlight resulting in a smaller energy yield and therefore increasing the cost of each unit of energy generated.
  18. Based on a calculated area of 4,050 square kilometres required to meet the UK’s energy demand. Figure includes losses of 2% due to power conditioning and 6.5% due to transmission and distribution. Power conditioning losses based on data sourced from Fuji Electric – ‘Large-scale Photovoltaic Power Generation Systems’ – Page 7. Transmission and distribution losses based on 2007 data for the United States and sourced from U.S. Department of Energy – ‘Frequently Asked Questions – Electricity’ – tonto.eia.doe.gov.
  19. Increase based on over 2,800 kWh of sunlight striking each square metre of the earth’s surface on an annual basis close to the equator and 800 kWh striking the earth’s surface in Northern Europe.
  20. International Energy Agency – ‘Projected Costs of Generating Electricity’ (2010) – Page 62.
  21. National Renewable Energy Laboratory – ‘PV FAQs’ – Page 1.
  22. Based on photovoltaic cells having an efficiency of 20%, 2,000 kWh of sunlight striking each square metre per year and the photovoltaic cells covering 75% of each square metre exposed.
  23. Calculation undertaken within the ‘Renewable Solution’ section of the ‘ZERO-FIFTY World Energy Database’ and based on a lifespan of 20 years. Lifespan sourced from Lazard – ‘Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis – Version 8.0’ – Page 16.
  24. No carbon offset data available so substituted with energy offset period. Based on a rooftop multicrystalline system. Sourced from National Renewable Energy Laboratory – ‘PV FAQs’ – Page 1.
  25. Hoogwijk, Monique and Graus, Wina – ‘Global Potential of Renewable Energy Sources: A Literature Assessment’ – Page 39.

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