Solar Power

This GCSE Geography quiz will test you on solar power. The increase in world population, increased wealth and technological advances have created an ever increasing demand for energy. In emerging economies, the cheapest and most effective way to obtain this energy is from the unsustainable burning of fossil fuels. In MEDCs, since the end of the twentieth century, there has been a drive towards increasing the amount of energy generated from cleaner and sustainable sources. One of these is to use the energy arriving at the surface of the Earth from the Sun. This form of renewable energy is not available to all countries, either because of their economic status or they don't have high enough levels of sunlight.

Solar power is also known as solar energy and uses the heat and the light from the Sun. As with most forms of renewable energy, the energy is spread out and so it takes large areas of solar collectors to obtain significant amounts.

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This can have social and economic effects on local populations as farmland is taken over for energy production. On a smaller scale, it is possible to fit solar panels and solar cells to individual dwellings in order to reduce their dependence on energy from other sources.

The simplest way to use solar power is to heat water using solar panels. A domestic solar hot water system comprises a sealed box with a glass front to allow the heat from the Sun to enter. The box contains tubes that are painted black (black absorbs heat the best) through which water is circulated by a pump. The water is warmed by the Sun's heat and can be stored, ready for use, in an insulated tank. It is expensive to install but costs very little to run. It has disadvantages like it doesn't work at night and it is less effective in the winter.

The Sun's heat can also be used to generate electricity, there are several solar power stations around the world. These have different designs but all work by focussing the heat from the Sun using mirrors in order to turn water into steam. The steam can then be used to turn a turbine which turns a generator. These power stations produce less electricity than conventional methods and have similar advantages and disadvantages to using the Sun's heat for heating domestic hot water.

Light from the Sun can be used to generate electricity directly using panels of photovoltaic cells. These can be fitted to individual houses or fixed together in huge arrays. Photovoltaic cells are not very efficient at converting light to electricity, most commercial cells convert only about a quarter of the incoming energy to electricity. They also become covered with dust which means they must be regularly cleaned if they are to work at their maximum efficiency.

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  1. Which of the following is not part of a solar powered system for producing hot water?
    The tubes that absorb the Sun's heat are painted black to make them more efficient
  2. Why might people in a rural community object to the installation of a photovoltaic solar power station?
    If the area is particularly attractive, locals may also think that such an installation would be an eyesore
  3. Which of the following statements best describes a renewable energy resource?
    You could regard oil, coal and gas as renewable on that basis but it is a matter of the timescale - they take tens of millions of years to form and we are using up current stocks a lot faster than they will be formed, so, at some point in the future, there will be no more oil and coal for millions of years
  4. Which of the following does not contribute to the increasing global energy demands?
    Reducing energy demands would reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  5. Why are governments around the world investing money in renewable energy sources?
    Over the last fifty years, globalisation and industrialisation has led to a large increase in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and many governments believe that reducing their country's carbon footprint will be better for the planet
  6. Which is NOT an advantage of generating electricity from the Sun's energy?
    It is not cheap to set up at all, in fact it is expensive to install photovoltaic systems
  7. What is a sustainable resource?
    Although solar energy is a renewable resource, the materials from which solar panels, tubing, photovoltaic cells and other components are not. Careful management, including recycling is necessary to ensure that solar energy is sustainable for as long as possible
  8. Which of the following is NOT a disadvantage of solar power
    Solar power will be available for as long as the Sun is there. The Sun will use up its fuel in about 5,000 billion years but the Earth will be destroyed long before that happens
  9. Which of the following is a long term economic benefit of electricity generated from photovoltaic cells?
    A grant is a short term economic benefit although you could possibly argue that it is a long term benefit too as it means you pay less to start with and so it has a shorter payback time
  10. About 20% of the total energy produced from renewable resources in Spain and Greece is from solar power. In the UK, the equivalent figure is less than 5%. Which of the following is the most likely explanation?
    Solar power is best in countries that have a lot of sunshine. Hot deserts would be the best place for solar power stations but there are political and technical issues that would need solving first

Author: Kev Woodward

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