From 3rd to 11th November 2018 APS had the pleasure of hosting for the 3rd week-long student meeting of our Erasmus+ project looking at Alternative energy and Energy storage. The aim of the two year project is to enlighten students from the 4 partner countries, Greece, Denmark, Poland and the UK about issues around switching our electricity supply to renewables such as wind and solar; great when the wind's blowing or the sun is shining but less good when they're not! Hence, the need for large-scale energy storage and clever technology that matches supply and demand. Over the course of the two years, delegations of 15-19 year old students from every partner school meet in each of the countries to attend visits and talks from experts and work in international groups.
As a world-leading city, it was no surprise we had a busy week indulging in both the science of the project and the equally important cultural side. We must thank the generous staff who organised excellent visits to the Cavendish labs at Cambridge University, Imperial College London and UCL. The group had the privilege of a guided tour of a science museum gallery by the galleries curators! We also had a number of STEM ambassadors and industry experts come into school to work with the group. On the cultural side as well as time exploring central London, the students and staff had a social evening at the legendary Rowans bowling in Finsbury Park and helped during sixth form open evening, running stands in languages and science.
All of the students both visiting and our own demonstrated model behaviour and great enthusiasm for international working and solving the challenging area of having a cleaner electrical energy supply. They now return to their own school and community to spread this knowledge and enthusiasm.
A very big thank you to the APS host families who had international students stay with them and to all involved in the project. We now look forward to the final project meeting on the Greek island of Kos in April 2019 and further ahead to where the students working on this project become future scientists and engineers in a global marketplace solving complex problems and making the world energy supply more sustainable!
Students had a lot of positive comments about the week's activities:
- Solar Panels Talk
Guided tour by the curator of the Mathematics gallery at London's Science Museum
Visit to Cambridge University's Canvendish laboratories and museum
We also learnt about the problems with lithium ions batteries - lithium is limited, cobalt and nickel can be toxic in the environment, so disposal is a problem. Hydrogen fuel cells can be used instead, although hydrogen gas can be difficult to work with so the system must be made safer before it can be considered a viable alternative. Celia
- brief explanation of the band gap within atoms where electrons jump from the valence to the conductive band when energised, and as they drop down to the relaxed state they emit a photon. It is the size of this band gap that influences the ability of the material to release a photon.
- learnt about the processes involved in the manufacture of flexible solar panels, such as spinning the substrate with the active layer material added at incredibly high speeds, or printing, in order to get layers as thin as 100nm.
- introduced to the idea of perovskites, materials with an ABX3 structure, where A is an organic molecule eg carbon and X is a halide such as chlorine, which have an ideal band gap to be used as an active layer. These allow the solar panel to be both flexible and so thin that they are almost transparent, which could give rise to possible applications in buildings e.g windows.
- Solar thermal fields are an option when temperature is too high for photovoltaics to operate efficiently such as in the desert - using mirrors to focus light onto salt plains that then melt - as the molten salt cools, the energy can be used without worrying about fitting photovoltaics with cooling systems or replacing the materials as they degrade/melt due to the heat, saving labour, cost and materials.
- linking with the problem of energy storage - electricity from solar power needs to be stored in batteries that must be affordable, safe, use non-toxic materials, and must be able to cope with higher energy quantities in peak times. Losses from the grid are around 20%, so there is a need to optimise this infrastructure, possibly using a 'borrowing and lending' system where energy is sold between areas of excess and deficit, or superconducting wires to avoid losses if these are developed to a point where they are affordable enough to be a feasible options. Countries that may not be as industry heavy may be a better option for photovoltaic energy because they do not need as large or constant a supply of electricity.
- difficulty with implementing renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic technology due to the high cost of such when compared the the relatively cheap energy sources that are available to the country, regardless of the effect on the environment, such as Poland with their intensive use of coal due to the abundance of it in the country. Suggests a need for an economic intervention / programs that allow countries to set up the infrastructure for more renewable energy sources without the country having to independently fund such an endeavour.