In West Germany, the controversy over nuclear energy has often erupted into violence clashes between opponents and supporters of a nuclear programme.
In West Germany, the controversy over nuclear energy has often erupted into violence clashes between opponents and supporters of a nuclear programme. But, both sides in the conflict know that alternative sources of energy to oil, gas and coal have to be found. World-wide, the annual consumption of fuel oil, and other oil products, more than doubled over the past decade, and many current energy sources are in danger of running out. The West Germany Government is currently spending over hundred million marks (50 million U.S. dollars) every year on solar devices in their homes.
SYNOPSIS: More than a quarter of all energy consumed is burnt up in domestic use. For a long time, scientists and engineers have concentrated on a central heating system that does not depend on conventional domestic fuels. And, since the recent energy crisis, research has been stepped up.
On the roof of this laboratory building at the Siemens Research Centre in Erlangen, solar collectors have been installed to cover an area of one hundred and eighty-five square metres (2000 square feet). It is part of the largest research project of its kind in West Germany. Under optimum conditions, ten cubic metres (350 cubic feet) of water a day can be heated to fifty-five degrees Centigrade (131 degrees Fahrenheit) with this installation.
But, in sun-starved northern Europe, these optimum conditions only exist between April and September -- precisely the time when heating is not required. This, and the substantial cost of solar collectors, makes heating with solar energy alone neither a practical nor an economical proposition for domestic use. The question then is how economically can a solar heating system function under optimum conditions?
To answer this question, technicians take constant measurements and recordings to obtain information on the conditions under which solar heat can be utilised. The speed and the direction of the wind are registered, and the heat radiation from the sun is recorded by photocells. But to make solar heating a valid proposition, another component is needed.
That component is being manufactured and tested in the Kulmbach Air Conditioning factory in Bavaria. It is a heat-pump. By the same token that a heat pump can cool the air in a refrigerator, it can also be used for heating purpose. It does this by extracting heat in the cooling process, and increase the temperature by raising pressure.
This can increase an energy input five-fold -- and would make a combination of solar heating and the pumps economical if the price of oil rises any further. But, actually obtaining electricity from solar energy is still a long way off. Scientists say that weather conditions are too unpredictable to obtain the immense heat which would need to be generated.