• Question: How do we get more energy from the sun?

    Asked by Maya Cove to Aaron, Abbey, Keith, Natalie, Pete on 14 Nov 2015.
    • Photo: Peter Burgess

      Peter Burgess answered on 14 Nov 2015:

      The Sun is emitting about the same amount of energy all the time.
      We can capture more of this energy in a few different ways.
      Plants have been using solar energy to combine carbon dioxide and water through photosynthesis. We can get most of this energy back when we burn wood (or eat potatoes).
      To directly get electricity from solar energy there are two methods. The one I work on is called photovoltaics (PV) which use materials known as semiconductors with special properties to turn light into electricity. The other way is to concentrate the heat from the sun onto a pipe or a chamber using mirrors (CSP), and then use this captured heat to make steam and use that to drive a turbine in the same way as a traditional coal or gas power station.
      PV has become much cheaper than concentrating solar power in recent years but CSP is more easy to adapt to storing energy for use at night.

    • Photo: Aaron Boardley

      Aaron Boardley answered on 17 Nov 2015:

      I can’t really beat what Pete has said – he’s the solar power expert!

      The only other thought I had is about where we put solar panels. You can get large set-ups in deserts or fields or open areas which can capture loads of sun light and produce energy on a relatively large scale. Or, you can put a few panels on the roof of your home and school and office, which will cut down on your need to take energy from elsewhere. A simple answer to ‘get more energy’ is to ‘get more solar panels!’. However, we don’t have unlimited money, so it’s not as simple as simply putting a panel on everyone’s roof, unfortunately.

    • Photo: Natalie Garrett

      Natalie Garrett answered on 20 Nov 2015:

      We could start by making more solar panels! There’s a lot more we could be doing to harness the energy that’s currently basically going to waste every day. Maybe one day in the distant future, we’ll make huge solar panels in outer space to harness even more energy from the sun, that would be amazing!