Innovative energy development

By | Business
The floating solar panels are mounted on plastic floats to form a giant pontoon and can then be distributed on water. Image credit - @David Blaikie via flickr.co.uk

A farm in Berkshire has become the first in the UK to install floating solar panels, in the aim that it may act as a blueprint for the technology to be installed across the country. The owners are now targeting water utilities and reservoirs for further development.

The solar panels are mounted onto plastic floats, forming a giant pontoon, and are then distributed onto water. This means that solar panels may now be installed in alternative locations to the roofs of buildings and freestanding in fields. They are an interesting alternative to fossil fuel based power sources, as they utilise natural energy released by the sun. This energy is captured by photovoltaic cells, which convert the sunlight into electricity, even on cloudy days.

Sheeplands Farm, near Wargrave, switched on the 200kw solar array last month, which is located on a reservoir and is expected to slash the business’ carbon emissions and energy bills. The Sheeplands Farm development was installed at a cost of £250,000 and is expected to secure a return on that investment within six years. Mr. Bennett expects to earn £20,500 a year, in consumer-funded subsidies, for the power it produces over the next 20 years. While also saving about £24,000 a year by using solar, instead of buying power from the Grid. The project may therefore pay for itself within 6 years and aims to deliver a minimum profit of more than £620,000 over 20 years. Advocates of floating solar farms might address the suggestions raised that solar farms might use up valuable agricultural land, while also delivering higher levels of conversion efficiency compared to standard solar farms. This is due to the cooling effect of the water.

Mr. Bennett has signed a deal with French firm Ciel et Terre, who developed the floating technology, to distribute it across the UK through his newly-formed company Floating Solar UK. The technology is already being used on a far larger scale in Japan. He has also suggested that he has a strong interest in using the technology elsewhere for major water companies. He thought that the development was more aesthetically pleasing than field panels. However, his target market was “functional reservoirs” used for drinking water or irrigation, rather than scenic lakes. Stating: “We are speaking to big utility companies, to agricultural companies – anyone with an unused body of water. The potential is remarkable.” The 800-panel project has a capacity of 200kw and spans approximately an acre. However, Mr. Bennett claims future projects could “very feasibly” be up to 100 times bigger.

Recent EU figures call for a more ambitious goal to reduce energy use by 2030. A 40 percent reduction in energy use, through efficiency measures, might increase the UK’s GDP by £62bn and create 40,000 new jobs, according to unpublished EU figures. Achieving a target of 30 percent would create 13,000 jobs and boost the economy by £17.3bn, says the study by independent consultancy Cambridge Econometrics, obtained by WWF after an access to information request. The study underlines the impact of engineering the economy to reduce energy use.

Brook Riley, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: “The benefits of energy efficiency are impressive and we need to be ambitious. GDP gains are three times higher with a 40 percent reduction target. It is significant that the countries challenged by the financial conditions – Greece, Portugal, Ireland – are among the strongest advocates of going as far as we can.”

EU energy and environment ministers are gathering in Milan soon to discuss energy efficiency targets, as part of a broader package of climate and energy goals for 2030. These goals currently include boosting renewables to a 27 percent share of the market and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent.

How might energy efficiency within the UK be increased further?

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