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Solar scientists put Scotland on world map

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Solar Panels by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

Scotland is quickly becoming a hub for research into solar power, with scientists from 10 universities probing the potential of the renewable energy source.

 

The current projects are looking at:

 

  • Developing cutting-edge materials to produce more energy, more cheaply
  • Making fuel from carbon dioxide using sunlight
  • How panels would work on the moon
  • How to freeze-proof solar technology for Scotland’s harsh winters
  • Using satellite-mounted mirrors to focus a concentrated beam of sunlight at a solar collector on Earth
  • Millions of pounds have been invested in Scotland’s booming solar research sector in recent years.

Now academics are joining forces with industry to plot the future of the sector.

Scottish Renewables’ first Solar Conference will be held in association with the Scottish Institute for Solar Energy Research in Edinburgh on September 6 and 7.

The organisation, known as SISER, brings together expertise from 10 Scottish Universities and the Edinburgh-based UK Astronomy Technology Centre to support the solar industry.

Stephanie Clark, Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Clean, affordable energy is a huge prize with a global market, and the work which is being done in Scotland is helping contribute to that aim.

“Scottish Renewables represents 280 organisations working in renewable energy in Scotland, so it’s only natural that we should partner with SISER to hold our first Solar Conference.”

Delegates at the event will hear from speakers including John Forster, Chairman of the Solar Trade Association Scotland and Sue Roaf, Professor of Architectural Engineering at Heriot Watt University on topics including:

  • The barriers which are currently holding solar back
  • Heat, electricity and the future of solar storage
  • The role of solar in developing sustainable buildings
  • How communities and industry can work together to develop solar power schemes.

Professor Graeme Cooke, Director of SISER, said: “This conference will showcase the breadth of solar energy research and development currently being undertaken in Scotland.”

The conference will also feature a poster exhibition, where students working in the sector will be able to showcase their ideas to industry and fellow academics.

Details of the projects mentioned above can be found below:

New materials, new possibilities
Perovskites offer a holy grail for solar – more efficient panels, made with cheaper materials.
The rapid rise of the material since 2009 has been unprecedented.
Professor Neil Robertson of the University of Edinburgh has partnered with the UK Supersolar Hub to develop new materials to further reduce the cost of perovskite cells.

Solar fuels via engineering innovation
Large-scale, economic ‘photoconversion’ of carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon-based fuels is a formidable scientific and technical challenge. Solar researchers at Heriot-Watt University are working with chemical engineers and chemists to engineer reactors which can make this process happen efficiently. More detail.

Solar on the moon
Heriot-Watt University’s Dr Nick Bennett helped the European Space Agency – the EU’s NASA – test how radiation in space affects panels.
He’s now working to turn lunar dust, known as rhegolith, into solar PV panels to find out if the process could be used to power a future moon base. More detail.

Protecting solar from Scotland’s wild winters
Solar thermal panels provide green heat to cut carbon emissions and fuel bills – but they don’t like freezing conditions.
Dr Tadhg O’Donovan of Heriot-Watt University and Scottish SME Soltropy designed a system which uses foam to absorb the pressure created as ice develops. The company is now marketing the system. More detail.

Satellites, solar and a super-charged energy beam
Dundee University physicist Dr Adrian Quarterman is developing lasers which use semi-conductors to convert solar energy into beams of light.
Satellites fitted with the devices would then ‘harvest’ solar power and beam it back to Earth. More detail.

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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