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Technisches Englisch (17)

Solar Energy

Reduce your electricity bill, go solar!
Reduce your electricity bill, go solar!

Jack: Lucy, have I told you about my next step regarding advanced technology?

Lucy: Oh no, Uncle Jack, you haven’t. What is it? Some more TV sets in the house or surveillance cameras in every room?

Jack: Oh no, I don’t think any of this would make much sense. It’s about green energy. One of my colleagues who is an electrician as well but owns a big company, is installing solar panels on the roof of our house next week.

Lucy: How exciting! I’ve seen many houses with solar panels on the roofs here in England. It seems to be very popular.

Jack: Yes, this trend has been going on for quite a while, because nowadays everybody is interested in saving money, and if you don’t want to switch to candlelight or cold baths one day, this is a very good alternative.

Lucy: But what are the actual benefits of this technology? And by the way, do you really have enough sun here in the UK? Isn’t your country infamous for its nasty and wet weather during any season of the year?

Jack: You’re absolutely right, Lucy. It’s quite obvious that we are very far away from the equator here. That’s why some people say that the sun doesn’t live in England. It only comes here on holiday when we’re all at work. It’s true, solar panels work much better during the summer months and are most productive when the sky is clear and the sun is shining.

Lucy: So, it doesn’t mean that solar panels stop working completely during the winter?

Jack: Absolutely, not. Sunlight isn’t an essential ingredient in solar power, even though it definitely helps. Daylight is the most important thing for solar panels to work properly. Moreover, the majority of the roof of my house faces south and isn’t obstructed by any shade. On the other hand, you could also cut back trees to reduce shading if necessary or use high-efficiency solar panels if you only have limited space.

Lucy: So no restrictions during autumn and winter or on overcast and rainy days?

Jack: Well, the efficiency of solar panels drops considerably during such times, which means that they are a fluctuating source of energy during the year. But they don’t need heat, only daylight. And we have this at least eight hours a day on average throughout the year, even here in the UK. Our frequent rainfalls also have a positive side because they keep the panels clean of dust and debris. Only when it’s cloudy and overcast, could the output be limited, as the sunlight can’t reach the surface of the solar panels so easily. I guess this could reduce the output by roughly thirty percent. But it would still be enough to power our household appliances during the day.

Lucy: But what about winter and snow?

Jack: When snow is falling, it’s usually cloudy and this could reduce solar output. But once the  snow has settled, it’s mostly not a problem, because the panels retain some warmth, and thus the snow will melt and slide off. Very often the panels are mounted at an angle for this reason, and with pointed roofs it’s very easy anyway.

Lucy: Does this mean that we’ll be completely independent with our electricity generation  once the panels have been installed?

Jack: We’re not completely independent of the National Grid, otherwise we might run into trouble. In the evenings, for example, it might be necessary to buy electricity from the grid.

Lucy: What’s the National Grid?

Jack: That’s Britain’s electricity transmissions network. They transmit the electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed within our country. They keep raising their prices all the time, which pushes up the energy bills of British households enormously. Therefore, the more we can create our own electricity, the less we need to purchase from the energy companies.

Lucy: How do they know about the installation of solar panels on the roofs of private houses?

Jack: You simply sign up to the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme, the so-called FITs. Then your energy supplier will pay you for each unit of electricity you generate. Moreover, it is possible to sell or ‘export’ unused electricity you have produced with you panels back to the National Grid. This depends, of course, on the time of year, hours of sunlight during the day and how much electricity you use in your household.

Lucy: I have no idea whether we also have something like this in Germany.

Jack: Oh, Germany was the first one to introduce these feed-in tariffs in the 1990s. They have been so successful there that they are now widely used all over Europe. The British Government has introduced them to increase the level of renewable energy in the UK towards our legally binding target which is 15% of total energy from renewables by  2020.

Lucy: Do you have these FITs only for solar panels?

Jack: No, there also other renewable energy sources included in the scheme apart from solar photovoltaic panels. Wind turbines are another example or anaerobic digestion. This means that biogas is created. That’s a type of biofuel that is naturally produced from the decomposition of organic waste in an environment without any oxygen.

Lucy: Oh yes, I know these biogas plants. We also have a lot of these in Germany. And I also know hydro generating stations where turbines are driven by water to create electricity.

Jack: Yes, they also qualify for the Feed-In Tariffs scheme, as well as micro combined heat and power, MCHP for short. This technology generates heat and electricity at the same time. A small fuel cell or heat engine drives a generator and provides electric power and heat to a building. These systems can be powered by fossil fuels but use the heat generated by creating electricity also for heating your house. The electrical output, however, small relative to the heat output. It’s about 6:1.

Lucy: Enough technical details for me, Uncle Jack. But how expensive is it to install the solar panels?

Jack: Well, it’s not exactly a cheap purchase. A typical 3-4kWp solar PV system costs around 6,500 BP, even though they keep getting cheaper all the time. This is a fairly expensive investment. However, you can expect to recoup the cost within 15 to 25 years and begin   making a profit thereafter. So it’s just the initial cost and then you have free energy for the rest of the very long lives of the solar panels. Besides, you can expect to save up to 50% on your energy bills and the sunlight is also completely complimentary. (Chuckles) Anyway, it’s a good investment into the future. The Feed-in Tariff scheme, however, will be replaced by a new scheme, the so- called Smart Export Guarantee, SEG for short, by the end of 2019. After that every household will be paid by energy suppliers for every kilowatt hour of unused solar-generated electricity they send back to the grid. The price will no longer be set by the government but by the different energy suppliers. This will create competition which might have a positive effect on the rates. Let’s see how it’ll work out. By 2030 solar power will probably be cheaper than gas and fossil fuel because panels are becoming cheaper and more efficient with advances in technology.

Lucy: You sound like a sales rep for solar panels, Uncle Jack. Please stop it now, otherwise my  brain will burst from solar information overload.

Jack: There are many more advantages, I could tell you like low maintenance, zero noise pollution etc. etc. But it seems, I’ll have to do that another time.



Having dealt with two different present tenses, it’s now time to talk about the Past Simple.  

Forming the past simple: For most verbs: add -ed

  • I worked yesterday.
  • He installed the solar panels.

For verbs ending in -e: just add -d

  • I invited him to the party. (to invite)
  • He changed the light bulb. (to change)

For some verbs, double the final consonant and add -ed:

  • He stopped at the traffic light.
  • They travelled to Spain last year.

Many verbs have an irregular form in the past simple:

  • do       did
  • go        went
  • have    had

You can find lists of English irregular verbs on the internet.  

There you always find 3 forms:

Infinitive:   Past simple: Past participle: (used with have, had etc.)
go   went gone

Negative sentences and questions

For negative sentences:
Use did not (didn’t) + infinitive

  • I didn’t see him yesterday.
  • He didn’t go to work on Monday.

For questions:
Use did or didn’t

  • Did they go to the cinema at the weekend?
  • Didn’t he write you an email?

The forms always stay the same in the Past Simple.
In questions and negatives ‘to do’ is  put in the Past Tense and is then followed by the infinitive.

  • I didn’t see him.
  • I didn’t saw him.
  • I don’t saw him.

Merksatz:  ‘Did’ plus Grundform ist die Norm, nach ‘did’ steht nie ’ne Past-Tense-Form.  

The only verb that changes in the Past Tense is ‘to be’:

  • I                       was
  • You                 were
  • He/she/it        was
  • We                  were
  • You                 were
  • They                were

Negative sentences with ‘to be’ in the Past Tense are formed by adding ‘not’, questions are asked by changing the word order and putting the verb at the beginning.

  • I wasn’t at home yesterday.
  • We weren’t in Italy last year.
  • Was he ill?
  • Weren’t you in the office this morning?
  • Where were you last night?

Use the Past Simple:

  • To talk about completed actions (abgeschlossene Handlungen) and states (Zustände) in  the past
  • It is often used with signal words, such as ‘last year, this morning, in 1999, 2 years ago, yesterday’ etc.
  • The weather was very hot last summer.
  • This company didn’t build the house.


Merksatz: ‘Yesterday, ago and last’ erfordern stets das Simple Past.

In German we say ‘Ich habe ihn gestern gesehen’ (Perfekt = vollendete Gegenwart/ 2.Vergangenheit).

In English it would be wrong to translate the German word by word.

You have a signal word for the Past Tense in this sentence: gestern/yesterday. It means that this is over, completed in the past.

Therefore, the only correct translation is: I saw him yesterday.

This tense (ich sah) is called ‘Präteritum/Imperfekt/1. Vergangenheit’ in German.

It is used in German for stories and reports about the past, mainly in writing. (Das Auto näherte sich der Kreuzung, gleichzeitig kam ein Radfahrer von links und achtete nicht auf die Vorfahrtsregelung).

You see, learning a foreign language always means also thinking about one’s own language and how we use it.

Grammar rules in different languages are mostly very different because it’s a different way of looking at things, a different perspective. Many people find it interesting to learn about these differences. Others don’t care what you call the different tenses but nevertheless like to understand why you have to say it in this way and why something else is wrong. Don’t be confused or frustrated by grammatical terms. As long as you use the tenses in the correct ways, it doesn’t matter what you call them. Easier said than done, I know.

After a short summer break, we will see how Jack is going to further improve Lucy’s knowledge about solar energy and solar PV systems. So, enjoy the summer and stay tuned!

Vokabelliste »Solar Energy«

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Über die Autorin
Sabine Barz

English communication-skills trainer


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