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OpTIC Technium

St Asaph - 6th November 2009

This event was arranged by the Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER) and included a seminar with key speakers, followed by an opportunity to tour the laboratory.

There were over 100 attendees mainly from the PV related industries and academia to what turned out to be an excellent seminar on a subject which is an essential building block within a future sustainable low carbon energy strategy.

The CSER facility is a new Centre of Expertise within Technium and has been formed in association with Glyndwr University. As part of the Low Carbon Research Institute and the Welsh Research Centre they have a proven expertise and world class reputation in developing Photovoltaic devices. OpTIC Technium’s facility in St Asaph has an impressive front wall completely covered in solar panels and has generated over 33000 kWh since May 2009.

Due to a lack of a significant home market, almost all PV products manufactured in the UK are exported. The UK has been slow in adopting PV technology compared to Spain and Germany who currently have the greatest market share. Significantly, Germany is no better suited in terms of sunlight than the UK, disproving the often quoted perception regarding the UK climate not being favourable to PV.

UK has been slow to introduce Feed in tariffs which allow PV power to be sold back to the Grid. These tariffs have already been put into place in Europe and are planned to be introduced in the UK by April 2010.

PV is struggling to compete with conventional power sources at present but the development of new technology including thin film and dye sensitised cells are bringing their costs down significantly. Work at CSER is focused on the production of these cells which involves depositing extremely thin absorber layers on compound semiconductors. The development of a production in line process to produce these materials is currently taking place. These products work well under diffuse light and may particularly good for the UK.

There is a potential for 10% of electricity generated in Wales to be from PV by 2025, representing approximately 3GW installed capacity. Support supply chain requirements for materials, electronics and installation could create an estimated 12000 jobs.

As an installer of Solar panels, Dulas Solar gave an interesting insight into the more practical aspects of fitting solar panels. It appears that a ‘gravy train’ is already developing requiring manufacturers and installers to be submitted to lengthy and somewhat costly assessments under the Micro-generation Construction Scheme (MCS). The cost can be up to £8000 and is a 3 month process with a further annual inspection and fee of £1600. MCS approval is essential to gain access to grants and the Feed in Tariff.

Only a few bodies are able to carry out the assessment and there is a waiting list. There are only 111 approved installers in the UK, with 7 in Wales. Dulas provided some impressive slides of completed installations, including a new council building in Shrewsbury.

A worrying aspect of the worldwide interest in solar energy is that large players are now moving into the market and the technology could move from Wales. It is important to retain the intellectual aspects of the technology even if production in low cost countries is necessary to make this a competitive sustainable energy source. HMG must be prepared to provide the necessary support and it is important to raise the profile and awareness of the work being carried out in St Asaph. 

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