Fascinating facts about sunshine – the ultimate source of energy

03 August 2023 | Aimee Tweedale

Whether you’re a dedicated sunbather, or someone who prefers to cool it in the shade, we can all appreciate the sun. After all, its life-giving rays are the reason we’re all here, able to live on Earth.

Not to mention: solar power is a green energy source. The sun’s rays are a completely natural, renewable source of energy. By using them to generate electricity, we can create a cleaner energy system in the UK, and move away from fossil fuels.

Girl applying sunscreen at the beach

With summer in full swing, we've decided it’s time to celebrate our favourite ball of gas in the sky. Here are some fascinating facts about sunlight and solar power – we hope you find them illuminating!

1. Bognor Regis is the sunniest place in the UK

If you’re looking for a bright and sunny UK staycation, look no further than the coastal town of Bognor Regis.

Bognor apparently gets an average of 1,940 hours of sunshine a year – more than anywhere else on our overcast island. There are a few other places that rival Bognor’s brilliance.1

Hastings and Eastbourne are also contenders, as they both hold the record for the sunniest-ever months, at 383.9 hours. Those were one-off events, though, rather than an average.2

If it’s heat you’re after, try heading to Margate in the south of England, where the average temperature is around 16 degrees.

Sunbathing on the balcony

2. The idea for British Summer Time came from a builder in Kent

We’re all familiar with the practice of turning the clocks forward by an hour in spring, and back an hour in autumn. It marks the change of the seasons, making sure that we get the maximum amount of sunshine during our waking hours. But when did it begin?

It all goes back to a builder named William Willett in the early 1900s. Apparently, while walking home in Kent one summer evening, he noticed that his neighbours’ curtains were all drawn, despite it still being light outside. So began his campaign against this ‘waste of daylight’, which eventually made its way to the House of Commons.3

The Summer Time Act, introducing British Summer Time, was passed in 1916. Sadly, William Willett died of the flu in 1915, just before his idea became law. He’s commemorated with a sundial in Kent, which is permanently set to BST. 

3. 2018 and 2022 were England’s hottest-ever summers

Last summer matched the record-breaking temperatures of summer 2018. The UK hit sunny new highs in a summer-long heatwave. Temperatures regularly hit 30 degrees during the day, with Coningsby in Lincolnshire experiencing a record-breaking 40.3 degrees in July.4

4. The word ‘solstice’ comes from the illusion that the sun is standing still

Summer solstice, aka the longest and sunniest day of the year, happens every year around June 21. But where does the word ‘solstice’ come from?

It’s a composite of 2 Latin words: ‘sol’, meaning sun, and ‘sistere’, meaning ‘to stand still’. 

It’s given this name because during the solstice, the sun doesn't look like it moves as it does the rest of the year. Usually, the way the Earth is tilted on its axis means that the sun appears higher or lower in the sky each day. But on the solstice, and the days around it, the sun seems to sit at the same high point in the sky each day at noon.5

5. Leonardo da Vinci first thought of solar power in the 16th century

Solar energy may seem pretty futuristic, but the scientific idea behind it is actually very old. 

Way back in the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci designed a series of what he called ‘burning mirrors’, which could use the sun’s rays to heat water. His system was never built, but the designs were the beginning of what we now know as solar panels.

Solar panels in the countryside

6. Solar power could be the world’s biggest energy source by 2050

The sun has always been our ultimate source of energy. It nourishes our bodies with vitamin D, it gives life to plants, and keeps our planet warm. And now that we’ve figured out how to convert its power into electricity, it’s the provider of green energy that we need to take us into a climate-friendly future. 

According to the International Energy Agency, solar power could make up as much as 27% of the world’s electricity by 2050. This would save about 6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year.6

7. Mark your calendars: there’s a solar eclipse due on 29 March 2025

An eclipse is when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, blocking our view of the sun (depending where you’re watching from). Back in 2015, you might remember there was a total eclipse, which is when the moon totally covers the sun, turning daylight to darkness. This was visible from northern Scotland. 

Unlike the total solar eclipse of 2015, the next one in 2025 will be ‘annular’. That means the moon will only block out part of the sun. Here in the UK, it’ll push us into 40% to 50% shade. 

For the next total eclipse that’s visible here in the UK, we’ll be waiting until 2090.7

A family enjoying the sunshine at the beach

8. The sun does not cause climate change

One of the biggest myths about global warming is that it’s caused by the sun itself. This simply isn’t true! 

In the past, small changes in the Earth’s path around the sun have led to ice ages. But this takes many thousands of years. The warming we’ve seen because of climate change has happened too fast for it to be caused by these kinds of changes in orbit. 

NASA explains that scientists have been tracking the sun’s energy since 1978. They’ve found that there’s been a consistent amount of energy travelling from the sun to the Earth’s atmosphere. This means that it’s our own emissions that are causing climate change. 

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