Future is looking bright thanks to sun research

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BRITAIN is getting brighter – with the sun shining for longer year by year, according to research by Sheffield University scientists.

A team has been tracking the efficiency of solar panels at homes across the UK, comparing statistics for this year with figures for the years 2002 to 2010.

The results show the country overall was 10 per cent sunnier in 2011 compared with 2010 – though the trend did not apply to Scotland.

Portsmouth was found to have enjoyed more rays this year than any other town, with other top 10 readings found in Cardiff, Ramsgate, Swansea, London and Bournemouth.

The dullest place surveyed was Loch Maree, in north-west Scotland.

Sheffield’s solar experts found readings in their own city did not trouble the national charts – but it was not all grim up north.

Durham basked in 13.5 per cent more sunlight than recorded in previous years – while Cornwall was duller than expected.

In charge of the project is Dr Alastair Buckley, from the university’s physics and astronomy department.

He said: “We started our work about 18 months ago and have been collecting solar panel data from the public for about a year.

“At the moment we have more than 200 people donating data, but we would like to expand to more than 2,000 to get even better coverage across the UK.

“We are looking to calculate the efficiency of solar panels when installed at different locations across the UK, so we need to know how sunny it has been in those locations.

“The Met Office allows us access to their weather station data and that includes a measure of irradiance, or sunniness.

“We believe that solar panels will be a really important technology in the future, one that will contribute to the UK’s future energy infrastructure so we want to know how best to use our UK solar resource.

“We also want to identify solar power hotspots – where for some geographic reason it’s sunnier than it should be.

“Real world data from users of solar panel technology is the best way to figure out what works best, it’s much better than making measurements in a lab.”

The Sheffield Solar Farm project has attracted £420,000 of funding from the energy industry and research councils.