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Dr John Hawkins

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Solar Powered

Posted on 2005/08/07 14:56:03 (August 2005).

[Saturday 6th August]
The main highlight of today only actually occupied about an hour, perhaps less, but the rest of the day was fairly uneventful - mainly messing about on the computer, so I will instead focus on my brief foray into solar power...


The day before I had bought a toy solar powered car in the ever excellent Tokyu Hands. Unfortunately, I'd then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening drinking, so by the time I got back there wasn't any sun. Today though, once I'd remembered I'd bought this great little toy, I set about building it and giving it a trial run. It wasn't at all difficult to make - just a simple snap together job which only took a few minutes. Then it was time to put it to the test. I was initially somewhat sceptical as to whether it would work at all, but I soon found my fears to be unfounded. Out on the balcony as soon as it got out of the shade the little motor went crazy and it really zipped along. Unfortunately it didn't go particularly straight, and as there was only a thin strip on the blacony that wasn't in shadow it was hard to get it to go very far.... but I still thought it was great.

I have now decided that solar panels are one of the best inventions in the world, and am determined to attempt more ambitious (perhaps even useful) projects with solar power in the future. It is just so great to have a source of power that is, well, free. You don't have to pay for it, and you don't have to worry about the environmental impact it is having.

Here in Japan there's a lot of concern over the environmental impact of all the power used by air conditioners and cooling fans. They are pretty much a necessity in the hot summer months - if offices didn't have them then it would just be too hot to work. It doesn't exactly require a Phd (although I have got one of those) to put two and two together here. When it's hot, you need air conditioning. It's hot because the sun is shining. So why not have solar powered air conditioners? OK, I'm sure there are a number of hurdles to overcome here: air conditioners require a lot of power, and solar panels don't provide a great deal... but then at the very least there have to be some benefits in a hybrid approach. If solar panels can cut the national power consumption of air conditioners by just a single percent, then that will have a massive financial and environmental impact on a country like Japan.

On a smaller scale, I've always wanted to have my own server - a PC left on all the time at home, connected to the internet, doing odd jobs. One of the things that has put me off is the issue of power - a nagging feeling of guilt about the cost and environmental impact of a computer being turned on 24/7, when likely as not it will be idle for a great deal of that time. So what about a solar powered PC? Perhaps in England this wouldn't have been particularly feasible, but here in Japan sunshine is certainly not in short supply.


Comment 1

Solar power pc, might work, you would need some big batteries to store all the charge you collected during the day.. Also what about capturing kinetic energy i.e from a bycycle and a dynamo, 30 minutes of pedelling every day to suppliment the solar. What about connecting all your doors, windows, cupboards and draws up to collect the kinetic energy used to operate them. In fact you could wear a sort of "Kinetic-o-suit" ( tm kev) that would store all your movement energy. If you needed more power you make it harder to move so collect more power ( into battery cells in the kinetic-o-suit backpack (tm)! )

Posted by kev at 2005/08/07 18:20:36.

Comment 2

We investigated solar power for 29 Shields a couple of years ago. Installation cost 8,000. As our current electricity usage, which includes the conventional storage heaters, is only 600 per year, it was not economically feasible, as it was estimated it would only reduce the bill by half.

Our friends in Leeds have it and say it is a lot of bother, particularly in the area where it is linked up to their conventional gas central heating, and a gas baord engineer managed to damage the solar bit during a routine service. Mind you, "sun" and "Leeds" are not synonymous.

However, you may be interested to know (or possibly not!) that I do some of my dyeing by solar power.

Posted by Mum at 2005/08/08 09:31:18.

Comment 3

I think solar power is way cool. (mmm a bit of a contradiction here). If I will ever get around buying a house I WILL install solar panes. Here in Italy sun is not a problem and I have heard that the extra wattage that you produce is bought back by the electricity company. I have to investigate further, but it seems a very good way to do something serious for the environment, the problem that I see is that the oil lobby is far too powerfull and governments will not promote solar power all that much.. Which again it's a shame...

Posted by Lox at 2005/08/20 15:57:23.

Comment 4

Solar powered cars on Bardsey ?
Might have to be a litle bigger .. you would not get many passengers into the 'balcony model' !

Posted by Nick at 2005/08/20 18:15:26.

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