Did you know we power all the agricultural buildings on one of our larger farms entirely with solar panels?
What are solar panels and how do they work?
Solar panels are groups of photovoltaic (PV) cells that turn sunlight into electricity. Solar is a plentiful, renewable source of energy and solar energy even works well in the grey old UK, because solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to function.
Whilst PV is the most common type of solar panel, there are also other types of solar power. For example, solar thermal panels use sunlight to heat water flowing through the panels, which can then be used to heat homes.
A solar panel’s photovoltaic cells are made up of sandwiched layers of semi-conducting materials, usually made of silicon. Each layer has different electronic properties, which energise when hit by photons from sunlight, creating an electric field. This is known as the photoelectric effect creating the current needed to produce electricity.
One solar panel typically consists of around 30 cells (those familiar-looking blue squares you often see in a solar panel). It can generate around 300W of power in full sunlight, depending on brightness, size of panel and other things like temperature.
The panels generate a direct current of electricity, which passes through an inverter and is converted into an alternating current. This is the charge that can then be funnelled into the National Grid, or used by homes or businesses like ours.
Solar can produce a great deal of energy close to where it is needed, plus the ongoing electricity production releases no carbon. They are silent and require little maintenance.
Not a new technology!
The first solar panel in space was used in 1958, on the American satellite Vanguard 1. It had six solar panels which each had an area of about five centimetres squared. The cells produced about one Watt of energy and were 10% efficient
As the International Space Station orbits Earth, its four pairs of solar arrays soak up the sun’s energy to provide electrical power for the numerous research and science investigations conducted every day, as well as continued operations of the orbiting platform. The first pair of solar arrays has now provided continuous electrical power to the station for more than 20 years.
International Space Station powered by solar panels
Solar power is now not unusual and is used in everyday life from children’s toys to pretty lights in our gardens.
The Future of solar panels
Scientists are continually trying to find better ways of harvesting renewable energy. A solar panel capable of beaming electricity to any point on Earth from space has been successfully tested by scientists working for the Pentagon.
The Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) is currently the size of a pizza box – but the technology could be scaled up in order to send massive amounts of clean and renewable energy to Earth via microwaves.
Our solar panels
So how does this help with bird feeding I hear you ask?! Well our solar panels are not quite as important as those powering satellites and the ISS, but they allow us to contribute to a more sustainable way of farming to produce some of the grains and seeds contained within your bird food. Read more about how we farm, using minimum tillage methods and providing 38 acres of habitats and food for birds and wildlife across our farms.