University sets up solar farm for photovoltaic research

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£120,000 investment into boosting photovoltaic research.

Work to install one of the city’s first major solar farms on the roof of a University of Sheffield building began today (21 June 2010) – the date of the summer solstice – as part of a £120,000 investment into boosting photovoltaic research.

Sheffield Solar Farm, which is being funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), will be based around the installation of 70m² state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels on the roof of the University’s Hicks building. The panels will benefit both the University and photovoltaics researchers and developers around the UK, who will be able to use it to field-test their new and experimental photovoltaic cell designs in a bid to further our knowledge of renewable energy sources. It is thought the main installation of the new Solar Farm will be completed by the beginning of July.

Photovoltaics is the science of using semiconductors, such as silicon, to create energy. When photons of light hit the cells they are absorbed and their energy is converted into electricity. While providing a benchmark for the use of photovoltaics in northerly latitudes, such as the UK, the Sheffield Solar Farm will also be used to provide electricity to the Hicks Building and the National Grid – reducing the University´s carbon footprint.

To monitor the effectiveness of the photovoltaic technology being tried and tested on the roof, equipment will log data and display it on a specially designed website for the Solar Farm. This will include a live web-cam and web-feed demonstrating the actual power being generated by each panel, the total power the sun is radiating on the roof and how the weather is affecting the amount of energy produced, as well as offer a comparison of the different photovoltaic technologies.

In the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, work is already underway to develop new generations of solar cells using plastic as opposed to silicon, something that would reduce processing costs and enable photovoltaic technology to be used on a wider scale. These new solar cells will now be put to the test on the Solar Farm.

As well as colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the cross cutting research project includes staff from Departments across the University including Chemistry, Geography and Mathematics and Statistics. They will work jointly with each other while at the same time engaging in knowledge transfer opportunities with developers, users and policy makers. By experimenting with different cells on top of the Hicks Building, the project team hopes to improve our understanding of photovoltaics and drive the technology forward.

The news of the Solar Farm comes as the University of Sheffield launches a unique venture entitled Project Sunshine. The project aims to unite scientists in finding ways to harness the power of the sun and tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the world today: meeting the increasing food and energy needs of the world’s population in the context of an uncertain climate and global environment change.

Dr Alastair Buckley, from the University’s Department of Physics, who is leading the Sheffield Solar Farm project, said: “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. 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 requirement, as well as informing customers, policy makers and other researchers which technologies are best for the UK.”

Professor Tony Ryan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science at the University of Sheffield, said: “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. Harnessing the power of the sun more efficiently can help reduce this pressure. 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.”

Source: The University of Sheffield

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