University of West of England Plans to Go Solar

With all the doom and gloom about the state of the solar industry in the UK in recent times, it comes as a pleasant surprise to learn that the University of West of England is going ahead with their plans to power their facilities through solar.

According to the university:

“We are committed to sustainability and energy efficiency, and this project is part of a wider plan to invest in projects that will help the university achieve our carbon reduction goals. As a large organisation we want to set an example for others to undertake similar projects.”

The university in Bristol is looking to quadruple its capacity over the next few years and, when installed, the solar array on the Frenchay Campus will be the biggest by a university in the UK. It will comprise 1,700 panels and will deliver a capacity 400 MW that can be used to power the campus.

While many organisations are rueing the loss of valuable subsidies that produce a good return of investment for smaller installations, the new solar model that seems to be coming out is for large organisations with enough space to power their needs and reduce their fuel costs by putting in large arrays.

The UWE installation is expected to cost in the region of £650,000 but will produce cost savings of around £50,000 a year, delivering a return on investment in about 12 years. Not only that, it should enable the university campus to greatly reduce their carbon footprint.

Of course, you need to have enough space to cope with such and installation. The 1,700 modules are being fitted over a 10,000 m² area on a building that now houses the university’s enterprise zone and a robotics lab. The panels will be able to provide half the energy these two centres need to operate.

It’s not the only way that the Frenchay Campus is going green. They are also embracing combined heat and power (CHP) systems on site which should decrease their carbon footprint even more. This is being combined with underground heating to create a district heating solution similar to those found in countries like Norway, where heat from pipes and other sources are diverted to reduce costs and environmental impact.

It’s good news for an industry like solar that has suffered in the past year or so. In January this year, subsidies were slashed for solar and wind and many businesses felt an immediate impact. The change in focus on subsidies has cost thousands of jobs in recent times but that doesn’t mean the solar industry is being driven into the ground. Yes, times are a little harder now but, with new models such as the one being demonstrated by UWE, the future could begin to look a lot brighter than many first thought.

According to the Guardian recently:

“Will solar survive in the UK? Well, storage technology is rapidly advancing and costs are falling. With the grid a mess, solar with storage will enable lots of warehouses and factories to be provided with clean power where and when they need it.”

There’s no doubt that solar is going to play a big part in our energy mix for the future and perhaps the doom mongers who prophesised its demise at the beginning of the year were a bit too quick off the mark. Projects like the one at the University of West of England show the industry is quite robust and moving forward despite the recent problems.



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