Britain is never going to rival the desert for sun power, but scientists believe the North-east can be a hot spot of manufacturing and technical prowess.
The spotlight is on PETEC – the Printable Electronics Technology Centre at Sedgefield – which last month was given £20m from government to continue breakthrough work in technologies including photovoltaics (PVs).
And PV could also play a key role in groundbreaking organic LED work by Spennymoor-based Thorn Lighting.
Thorn’s TOPLESS programme is helping to lead a revolutionary move away from traditional incandescent light bulbs to organic LEDs – super-thin sheets of plastic that emit white light. Several times more efficient than current low-energy bulbs, they could cut the UK’s electricity consumption by 8% by 2025 and when combined with domestic PVs, the carbon saving impact could be dramatic.
“The possibility of tying in with PVs is very interesting, it gives us the potential to take lighting off the grid,” said Dr Geoff Williams, from Thorn Lighting.
“We could effectively reduce the number of power stations required for microgeneration.”
Simon Ogier from PETEC, which is owned by Wilton-based Centre for Process Innovation, explains: “If we can make organic PV work, we will automatically have the ability to scale up for less investment.
“It’s still very early stages – and other technologies, such as wind power, are far more advanced – but PVs are definitely on our development roadmap.”
Director of PETEC, Tom Taylor, adds: “The new technology will mean we can print large areas of solar cells, harvesting the sun’s energy in a cost-effective way.”
“The North-east has the skills,” Simon adds. “We have a lot of companies moving into speciality chemicals, and we also have a lot of printing companies.”
The downside is the UK has nowhere near the incentives offered by other countries for households to install PV panels.
“These incentives really drive the market,” says Simon. “The UK doesn’t have to supply to its domestic markets, we can supply overseas to generate income.
“The UK historically has been pioneering in these new technologies, it would be a shame if we saw the value of that dribble away to other countries.”