A Bright and Varied future for Solar Panels?

In this series of blog posts Ellie Dewdney will be keeping you up to date with current issues that could affect Britain’s most special places and what the National Trust are doing to preserve these national treasures.

To the outrage of many working in the solar industry, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has recently revealed that it plans to stop supporting solar developments that generate more than 5MW after April next year.

Although, solar panels are a valuable way of providing renewable energy to the grid the technology is by no means universally popular. Large scale solar panel farms, in particular, are often met with a mixed reaction due to their potential visual impact and the pressure they can place on agricultural land. But there are other ways solar panels can be used effectively.

A Traditional Solar Farm.

A Traditional Solar Farm.

In fact, in response to their unpopularity, last month ministers promised to restrict the growth of massive solar farms, likening their presence to onshore wind farms. And in the new Solar Strategy, also released last month, DECC’s desire to distance itself from traditional solar farms is clear.

 

“We want to move the emphasis for growth away from large scale solar farms.”

However, this stance does not mean that solar will no longer play a role in cutting Co2 emissions. The Solar Strategy encourages the use of solar panels on rooftops and commercial buildings such as schools, supermarkets and factories.

All over the world we are starting to see people become more inventive of where they place and how they use solar panels. Just recently, officials have confirmed that solar panels on the Whitehouse roof are now operational and have released a video documenting their installation – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORni8uiuslI.

Obama is embracing solar panels.

Obama is embracing solar panels.

Other well-known structures that are using solar panels include the dragon-shaped Kaohsiung National Stadium in Taiwan that features thousands of panels (capable of generating more than 1mill KW of energy) and the CIS tower in Manchester.

Manchester's CIS Tower.

Manchester’s CIS Tower.

The Kaohsiung Stadium in all its glory.

The Kaohsiung Stadium in all its glory.

 

Here at the National Trust, we have also embraced this trend to help offset our carbon footprint where appropriate. For example, Dunster Castle in Somerset was the first Grade I listed National Trust property to have solar panels installed on its roof. The 24 PV panels – none of which touch the roof itself or are visible from ground level– produce enough energy to make the castle self-sufficient.

The Historic Dunster Castle now has Solar Panels.

The Historic Dunster Castle now has Solar Panels.

However, placing solar panels on rooftops could just be the beginning. The idea of replacing traditional roads with solar panels sounds like something out of a science-fiction flick but an American Company, Solar Roadways, are already working on this idea.

Scott and Julie Brusaw are championing the concept of using structurally engineered solar panels as a road surface. These panels would not only be able to power electric cars but also supply power to the grid. And the prototype car park, which they have created next to their lab, has yielded promising results.

According to the couple, the solar panels are producing the expected amount of power and even seem to offer some advantages over asphalt – helping to prevent ice and snow accumulation in winter months. Similarly, the solar panel road surface is able to hold vehicles weighing in excess of 125 tonnes without breaking and the surface has been traction tested proving the textured solar surface allows vehicles to stop with in the required distance.

The Idaho-based company is now trying to generate enough interest and funds to allow for larger scale production.

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