5 things you didn't know about solar

Principal Engineer, Alex Marshall, has been with Vital Energi for almost four years and plays a key role in bid development for a wide range of projects, many of which include solar.

We asked him to share 5 interesting facts about solar…

  1. By the end of 2023, the UK is expected to have 15,674 MWp of installed solar capacity; a growth of roughly 20% from 2022. The renewable energy that will be generated by those panels is equivalent to the annual electricity demand of approximately 4 million traditional homes. Vital will have installed almost 50 MWp by 2024!

  2. The largest solar farm in the world is the Golmud Solar Park in Qinghai, China. It has an output capacity of 2.8 GWp, which is equivalent in size to over 10,000 football fields. It contains over 7 million solar panels, which would have required 126,000 tonnes of sand to produce enough silicon to make the panels. The energy produced from this solar farm would equate to the annual demand of over 1.3 million traditional UK homes alone.

  3. Conventional solar panels have a maximum efficiency of 33.7%. By re-engineering the way panels are made, such as using multiple layers and combining different materials, scientists have worked out that this could go up to 86%! But we are a long way off yet…
    Some novel materials that are being used require interesting combinations of elements, such as Gallium, Indium, and Arsenic. Newer materials that are being investigated are Perovskites – which have complex crystal structures for harvesting light and significantly increase the efficiency of panels.

  4. Solar panels are manufactured using silicon, which is highly abundant in its natural ores (the main one being sand). Silicon can be processed into different types of material depending on the intended use:
    ​​​​​​​Traditional solar panels use individual or multiple smaller wafers of silicon (monocrystalline and polycrystalline), which can be expensive to produce, but have high efficiencies and outputs with relatively long lifespans.
    Some solar panels are coated with an amorphous (gel-like) layer, which is less expensive and better suited to harsh environments (dark / cold / hot), but is more susceptible to degradation over time.
    Unfortunately, as has been reported in the press, a lot of the silicon produced for solar panels is produced in an area of China where there have been widespread reports of modern slavery. At Vital, we work closely with our supply chain to ensure that the PV panels we procure are not linked to these specific areas of China, and that everything we use is ethically sourced.

  5. The world’s power usage is approximately 17 Terawatts (TW) on average. If we built a huge solar farm in the desert, we’d need around 43,000 square miles to produce this level of continuous power. Just 1% of the Sahara Desert would be enough area to provide all of this power and would cost a tenth of the equivalent in nuclear power stations.


Learn more about some of Vital's solar projects: