RemoteHVAC HQ’s solar panels

Bright Ideas

Here, at RemoteHVAC HQ we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint. That’s why the office is powered by solar panels! In July 2018, 40 solar photovoltaic (PV) were installed on the roof of our office in, with an electrical capacity of 9.25 kWp (kilowatt-peak). In the first 3 months of use, the total energy generated was 5,785 kWh (kilowatt hour) saving 4.1 tonnes of CO2.

It’s always sunny in… Cork!

There is a lot of energy coming out of the sun. Every hour, 1.367 kW of solar energy reaches every square meter (m2) of the upper atmosphere(1). PV panels are among the cleanest source for producing renewable energy. Since 2010 the cost for utility-scale PV cells dropped by 73%(2) and it is now the second least expensive form of renewable energy(3) (after on shore wind) but we are still behind in the uptake as compared to other European countries. In Ireland, there are a number of grant options available to both domestic and commercial buildings through seai.ie, and we used the Better Energy Communities fund.

How do they work?

Simply, PV cells convert photons (light energy) of sunlight into voltage, generating direct electrical current. They don’t require moving parts, or produce pollution (except for manufacturing them), no noise pollution and require minimal maintenance. The PV cells use visible light (wavelengths of between 400-780 nanometer) and energy generation is directly related to the intensity of light energy, where higher solar resources result in greater electric potential. PV systems use daylight, not direct sunlight to generate electricity.

How does sunlight get turned into energy?

A PV cell is made up of 2 thin layers of active semiconductor material (like silicon, the second most abundant element on earth!) attached to metal wires. The top, or N layer is very thin and seeded with phosphorus to provide it with an excess of free electrons (negative charge). The bottom, or P layer, is thicker and is treated with Boron so it has very few free electrons. When the layers are in contact, an electric field is created from the free electrons moving from the N to P layer (top to bottom) giving a built-in electric field! When the cell is exposed to sunlight, photons knock the free electrons from the P layer back to the N layer (bottom to top) creating a circuit.

How do we compare to other European countries?

Northern European countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, UK, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, and here in Ireland produce a maximum solar irradiance of ~ 1,000 kWh/kWp per year per photovoltaic. So, while we do not have the same photovoltaic potential as some of our European counterparts, Ireland can still benefit from the growing deployment of PV units. In 2016, renewable energy contributed 9.5% to the gross final consumption (GFC) of energy in Ireland, this would have primarily come from wind power. The installed capacity of PV was 5.93 MW, producing 4.07 GWh over the year(4), which amounted to only 0.01% of GFC. This suggests Ireland can do more with PV to reach the 2020 target of 16% renewable energy. In comparison in the UK, Solar PV contributed 3.08% of the total electricity available for supply for 2016, dramatically more than Irelands 0.01% PV contribution! This shows the enormous potential for further uptake of PV in Ireland.

Why is there a higher uptake in the UK?

One reason could be the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), introduced in 2010 providing financial support for micro renewable generation, where PV accounted for 80% of the installed technology. There is currently no scheme in Ireland for surplus energy generated and is supplied back to the grid for free. A similar incentive in Ireland may help an increased uptake of PV, but for now the majority of Ireland's renewable energy will continue to come from large scale wind power, amounting to 82% in 2016.

What is RemoteHVAC doing to be a more energy efficient company?

At RemoteHVAC, we’re great at analysis. So we have been mapping our PV’s output to compare against weather data! Check out our graph below on the output compared to the weather in August 2018. We’ll be watching the output change with the seasons and will update in the next quarter! We have also installed charge points and will be switching our fleet to electric vehicles! Interested in tracking our progress - we’ll update on the blog and social media!

Further Reading

References:
1) Schneider, J., Bahnemann, D., Ye, J., Puma, G.L. and Dionysiou, D.D. eds., 2016. Photocatalysis: fundamentals and perspectives. Royal Society of Chemistry.
2) IRENA Renewable Power Generation Costs. 2017 Key findings and executive summary
3) Engineers Journal “Does commercial solar photovoltaic make sense in Ireland?” 28th June 2016
4) National renewable energy Action Plan (NREAP) Ireland, Fourth Progress Report, Submitted under Article 22 of Directive 2009/28/EC December 2017

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