Renewable energy (1) Wind power and solar power

Two renewable resources that will never run out!

Doc Brown's Physics Revision Notes

Suitable for GCSE/IGCSE Physics/Science courses or their equivalent


Wind Power - turbines and generators - advantages/disadvantages


Solar Power - solar panels - solar cells - advantages/disadvantages

Wind power - wind turbines generating electricity

 The technology of wind power

Wind turbine blades are driven by the kinetic energy of wind movement which in turn drive a generator (electrical energy). Each set of turbine blades is connected to a generator to produce electricity which can be fed into a domestic supply or, more likely, fed into the National Grid system.

They are sited in clusters ('wind farms') in exposed locations on open land or out at sea (the latter is a more expensive location to erect the turbines). Locations are chosen after a survey is done to see if a commercial amount of wind blows!

Advantages of wind power

Wind turbine technology isn't cheap at the moment, BUT, as more are built and designs improve, they are becoming more commercially more viable and the energy is free and maintenance costs are low.

Free source of energy, however unreliable, will never run out.

Disadvantages of wind power

It takes a great many wind turbines to generate the same amount of electricity as a large scale power station.

Wind power generation is not capable of dealing with the high energy demands of peak times eg peak travel times. and cooking because unfortunately you cannot increase power production at all.

Some people object to what they see as 'visual pollution' or 'noise pollution' but at one time hundreds of windmills were a common sight in the countryside.

There are several other problems too eg wind speed is variable and if it drops to zero, so does the power generation.


Solar power

The technology of solar power

c) Know and understand that 'renewable' electricity can be produced directly from the Sunís radiation.

You should know that solar cells can be used to generate electricity and should be able to describe the advantages and disadvantages of their use.

Solar cells (photovoltaic cells) produce 'small scale' electricity direct from sunlight energy, it is no good for a large scale electricity supply. Its free, but variable eg from cloudy days to bright sunny days, and of course it cannot work at night - so variable output is a problem, but it is being widely exploited in very sunny countries from eg Spain to African states. The technology eg installation is expensive, but getting cheaper and it is non-polluting when installed and runs off free energy with very low maintenance costs. One important advantage is that it easy to install on a small scale in remote areas not connected to the mains electricity supply. Lately, many people in developed countries are putting solar panels on their house roofs to generate electricity which adds to the electricity supply (National Grid) and reduces their own electricity bill. In developing countries it is a most important and convenient way of generating electricity on a local small scale in locations far from a national electricity supply.

Advantages of solar power

Free and non-polluting and never runs out.

Disadvantages of solar power

On average, for half the day is no sunlight and the sunlight itself is of variable intensity e.g. cloudy to bright sun.

  • Check out your practical work you did or teacher demonstrations you observed, all of this is part of good revision for your module examination context questions and helps with 'how science works'.

    • investigating the effect of changing different variables on the output of solar cells, eg distance from the light source, the use of different coloured filters and the area of the solar cells,

    • planning and carrying out an investigation into the effect of changing different variables on the output of model wind turbines, eg the number or pitch of the blades, the wind velocity,


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