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  • University solar farm is live PV test bed

Oct 2010
SHEFFIELD, UK – This year’s summer solstice marked the launch of a solar farm project that will provide benchmark, real-world testing of photovoltaics (PVs) in northerly latitudes such as the UK.

The Sheffield Solar Farm, a 70-m2 state-of-the-art installation at the University of Sheffield, is part of a £120,000 ($184,000) investment by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg officially launched the project Aug. 20, 2010, on the roof of the university’s Hicks Building.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg poses with solar panels on the roof of the University of Sheffield’s Hicks Building. Images courtesy of Shemina Davis, University of Sheffield.

Work already is under way to develop new generations of solar cells using plastic instead of silicon, which would reduce processing costs, according to the university’s department of physics and astronomy.

“The Sheffield Solar Farm is an important venture, as it is bridging the gap between the research lab and how solar cells are used in the real world,” said Dr. Alastair Buckley, the project leader and a lecturer in the physics department. “We want to find out how new solar technologies perform here in Sheffield and compare them to the existing state-of-the-art technologies. This will help to align our research into next-generation cell designs with real-world requirements as well as informing customers, policy makers and other researchers which technologies are best for the UK.”

The solar farm will serve as an educational tool, enabling the demonstration of a comprehensive range of PV technology. It will be a test bed for silicon manufacturers as well as for flexible thin-film photovoltaics such as amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide for lightweight integration into buildings.

Live webcam and web-feed demonstrations of the actual power being generated by each solar panel will be logged onto a website specifically designed for the project. The data, accessible to the general public, will reflect the total power being radiated on the roof by the sun – both direct and diffused – and will show how weather affects the amount of energy produced.

Energy from the solar farm will feed back into the university’s electrical system – reducing its carbon footprint – and into the National Grid. It is expected to generate approximately 8000 kWh annually.

“As we face the huge challenges of climate change and energy security, it is vital the UK moves away from its reliance on fossil fuels and onto low carbon technologies,” Clegg said. “The solar farm is not only a hugely impressive work of both ingenuity and engineering, but it could prove to be a vital tool for developing the technologies that will meet our energy needs for decades to come.”

The solar farm is part of a new venture launched by the university called Project Sunshine. The project, which brings together more than 40 scientists (biologists, chemists, physicists and mathematicians), aims to harness the power of the sun with the hope of understanding how to develop sustainable food and energy security in a stable environment.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speaks during the opening of the Sheffield Solar Farm and is joined by professor Tony Ryan, left, and Dr. Alastair Buckley.

“Our planet is under real pressure – too many people, not enough energy or food, environmental destruction at an accelerating rate, unsustainable economic growth and increasing evidence of climate change,” said professor Tony Ryan, provice chancellor for science at the university.

“Harnessing the power of the sun more efficiently can help reduce this pressure,” he added. “The University of Sheffield is strong in many areas of research relating to the sun, with overlapping expertise in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics as well as relevant expertise in related engineering, sociological and economic aspects. The solar farm unites researchers from a range of disciplines in a common cause.”

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