In the UK, solar energy is still something of a confusing answer to the problems posed by our ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources. This confusion is unsurprising, our northern European climate is rarely associated with scorching heat - and a quick look at our landscape and coast shows ample area for wind and tidal power. Yet, in recent times the increasing affordability of solar hot water and proof of the benefits that come with it is causing more of us to consider installing solar collectors. But to really keep abreast of the developments in solar technology, we can learn the most from Israel.
This may be surprising to some. By comparison to the United States etc, Israel is by no means the richest country in the world so how can they afford to be at the forefront of a technology that is widely considered so expensive? Well, this goes some way to highlighting just how affordable such technology is today, and in a country that is blessed by more than 300 days of sunlight a year - they have been benefiting from solar hot water for over 50 years.
In the 1950s an Israeli fuel shortage stimulated entrepreneurial engineer Levi Yissar to invent a solar water heater, which became a commercial venture by 1953. By 1967 one in 20 Israeli homes were using the heaters and 50,000 had been sold. Demand dropped over the next few years, but picked up again due to a national energy crisis in the 70s, pushing the Israeli government to pass a law assuring that every new home was built with a solar water heater installed.
Since then the country has grown to become the world leader in solar production - with the Ministry of National Infrastructures estimating that solar saves Israel around two million barrels of oil a year. However, despite the abundant amount of sunlight and the long-established use of solar for heating water, Israel is also at the forefront of making solar ever more efficient - to the point of matching fossil fuels.
In a report at NPR, David Faiman of Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Centre highlights the problems with solar. "Solar energy is a very dilute form of energy compared to fossil energy. If you take one metre of the sun rich Negev desert...it will take nearly a year to absorb from the sun the equivalent of one barrel of oil, and mankind is currently consuming energy at the rate of two hundred million barrels a day." Despite this, Israel's work with concentrator photo voltaics technology is speeding up the process - producing 1,500 watts of electric power from just a four inch by four inch solar panel.
Sarah Maple writes about energy management and renewable energy. The Green Project has been set up to give you and your community the best advice and recommendations on ways to make your home more energy efficient to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
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