A new solar technology research ‘farm’ at the University of Sheffield saw it’s official opening last week by the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The ‘Solar Farm’ as it is coined makes up one part of a larger initiative within the University called ‘Project Sunshine’, which through inter-disciplinary research aims to tackle the future energy and food needs of the world. Sheffield Solar farm looks at different solar panel technologies that are available and in development at the present moment. Another area of Project Sunshine research is into food production and methods for increasing crop yields by looking at new cropping methods that use sunlight water and fertiliser more efficiently than at present. Project sunshine also looks into the area of environmental change through satellite observation and what implications this has on a global scale to energy and food needs. This area of research also tackles social issues and the outcomes of changed views on energy use.
The solar farm consists of a 70^2 m array of silicon photovoltaic panels and includes a test bed for future technologies relating to photovoltaic panels. The primary silicon photovoltaic array is designed to feed back electricity into the University’s electrical system, providing around 1% of the annual power consumption of the Hicks Building (8000 kW hr per annum). On top of providing power to the University the silicon array will be a useful research tool for researchers, policy makers and the public allowing real time data to be acquired in an operational environment. Power generation data that will be obtained from the array will also be compared to the sun’s irradiance and how diffuse the light is. This data can be used to see what affect cloud cover and other weather conditions have on solar panel output, combating one of the major questions raised when solar power is discussed as a new generation of energy production. The data can be viewed through the Solar Farm’s own website providing daily irradiance and photovoltaic data output, as well as up to the minute solar and electrical power readings.
On top of the large silicon array other technologies are to be tested at the solar farm to promote transfer of knowledge and new links between industry and academia. This will be achieved through the secondary test bed that has been installed. Different silicon panels from different manufacturers will be tested here. The operational data achieved from the latest products will allow for these technologies to be adapted to cope with the variations in light levels due to atmospherical effects. The test bed can also house new flexible thin film photovoltaic cells with the intention of their future integration into buildings which would result in a substantial increase in the total area of photovoltaic cells in operation in the UK. Another technology for the test bed is that of polymer photovoltaics, an area closely tied in with research being conducted within the university. This will allow photovoltaics that have been created by groups in the university to get data on how they perform in an operational environment, for the first time.
It will be interesting to see how the research develops at the solar farm and how this will aid development of future solar technologies with higher efficiencies and better implementation into the real world. The UK has a sufficient area for solar panels that would provide a significant proportion of the energy needed, on the roofs of most buildings or in gardens. If these new technologies can be developed and integrated into these areas then aims to cut carbon emissions can be achieved and the way we produced energy revolutionised.
Links to the Initiatives websites:
Project sunshine : http://shine.sheffield.ac.uk/
Solar Farm (where real time data can be viewed) : http://www.sheffieldsolarfarm.group.shef.ac.uk/