It’s a dull day in late October. It’s about, ironically, generating electricity from the sun, bringing back memories of meeting a man years ago who was ahead of his time.
In the 1980s, electrician Martin Murphy installed solar panels on the roof of his home in Rathmore, County Kerry. I wrote a story in this newspaper about a very unusual event for the time, in the face of universal concerns about global warming or the need to find renewable energy sources.
Solar panels in Rathmore, County Kerry in 1985
Martin, who is an electrical manager at the Cadbury factory in Rathmore, was intrigued by how he heats water for home use from panels. “It’s the way of the future, and it can also save people money,” he assured us and anyone else who would listen.
He died earlier this year, aged 91. And if he didn’t brag, he should have been quietly pleased with his actions at least 35 years ago.
New houses are being built with solar panels. Photo: Dan Linehan
Given our humid climate, the idea of generating electricity from the sun’s rays was once considered a joke by some. We have also been among the most difficult countries to plan panels. Now the obstacles are being removed and the goal is to install one million panels.
Encouragingly, the Government is following the example of other EU countries by easing planning restrictions to encourage people to use solar energy for power generation.
But Ireland is better known for wind and wave energy, so it has a long way to go. According to the Sustainable Energy Organization, only 1% of our renewable energy comes from the sun, while wind produces 59% of total renewable energy.
Advances in solar technology and reduced costs now make it an attractive system for household electricity generation here. Even on cloudy days, the technology works at a lower capacity.
In the first eight months of this year, solar applications have doubled to 10,400 grants available. Rising gas and oil prices clearly increase this growth.
A report by Sidharth Josh and Paul Deane for the Solar Energy Association of Ireland says that a typical home can save around €400 a year on electricity and a solar system pays for itself in seven years.
EU policy aims for all new housing to have roof panels by 2029. Business and industry will likely follow. Farmers can also save money by getting electricity from the sun.
Experts such as UCC’s Paul Deane believe solar energy will play an even more important role alongside other renewable energy sources as the world focuses on meeting climate change targets.
CLIMATE FRIENDLY ROAD…
Heat our homes
Gas or oil fired boilers contribute to climate change.
Switching to electric heating systems such as heat pumps can reduce emissions from heating your home.
For a heat pump system to work efficiently, you need a high level of insulation.
Turn your thermostat down a degree to reduce your energy use.
Install thermostatic controls on your radiators.
Insulate your attic and check your windows and doors to make sure you’re not losing heat through them.