Solar panels 'best chance' of meeting energy needs

Fri, Aug 31, 2012, 01:00

SOLAR PANELS that convert sunlight into electricity may represent the world’s best chance of supplying energy needs into the future. No other technology holds the same potential, a conference in Dublin has heard.

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte opened the conference, The Future of Energy: Dreams and Responsibilities, at the Science Gallery early yesterday but protesters sprang up with banners, temporarily halting his presentation.

The half-day event included presentations from a number of senior scientists based at the University of Notre Dame. Their participation was linked to this weekend’s American football game between Notre Dame and the US Navy team, which will be played at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

Yesterday’s proceedings were introduced by Prof Peter Kilpatrick, the McCloskey dean of engineering at the Indiana-based university. He introduced Mr Rabbitte who began to speak only to be interrupted by the protesters.

The first banner opened said: “Shell’s Pet Rabbitte”. Organisers took down the banner and attempted to shepherd the protesters out but they immediately tried to open a second banner that was quickly taken down.

One protester trained a small video camera on the Minister, citing his “responsibility to the Rossport community” and demanding to know why Mr Rabbitte had given away oil licences to the multinationals.

Disruption continued for a few minutes before the group of three or four was cleared from the room and Mr Rabbitte resumed.

Ireland had a “total dependence” on fossil fuels but the rapid introduction of renewables, particularly wind turbines, could help reduce this, he said.

Geopolitical uncertainty meant the country remained exposed to energy “shocks” and needed to escape this. “We have seen good progress in the past 10 years,” he said, with a tripling of wind capacity.

Several speakers talked about the potential of solar power, including Dr Mazhar Bari, co-founder of Irish company SolarPrint. “In Ireland, people believe there is no sunlight here, but Ireland gets the same amount as Germany,” he said.

New flexible panels were being developed that could be rolled out or even painted onto surfaces to produce solar electricity.

Total world energy demand was 15 or 16 trillion watts but the sun each day delivered 120 trillion watts to the Earth, said Prof Prashant Kamat of Notre Dame.

Even if the countries of the world built a new 1 billion-watt nuclear power plant each day, this could not keep pace with the estimated doubling of demand over the next 35 years, he said.

“Clean energy is the way to go for the future,” said Prof Don MacElroy, principal investigator at UCD working on solar energy conversion. Solar power could be collected during the day and used to split water into hydrogen fuel, create chemicals or charge batteries – storage methods that could be used to supply electricity at night.

FOOTBALL SPIN-OFF: TECHNOLOGY SYMPOSIUM

A SECOND research-based academic symposium takes place this morning in association with the Navy-Notre Dame American US football game being played in Dublin this weekend.

Dublin City University’s Marine and Environmental Sensing Technology Hub and the National Centre for Sensor Research at DCU have organised the event, in which scientists doing environmental and sensor research at the University of Notre Dame will participate.

The “Technology Touchdown Collaboration Event” is being held to help foster deeper research links between DCU and Notre Dame, said Prof Fiona Regan, professor in environmental sensing in the hub.

The symposium will focus on issues including detection of rare marine species; monitoring of the marine environment; aquatic ecosystems; development of nano- antimicrobial materials for prevention of biofouling, and an assessment of collaboration opportunities between the two institutions.

The symposium includes 12 presentations by leading researchers from the hub and from Notre Dame, with sessions looking at the environmental challenges, the development of sensor platforms and the design and characterisation of nanomaterials that are being used in new generation sensor technologies.

A social event yesterday evening also saw welcoming addresses to the Notre Dame guests by John Hennessy-Niland, deputy chief of mission at the American embassy, Dublin, by Cmdr Mark Mellett of the Irish Naval Service and by DCU president Brian MacCraith.