Leading academics gather to explore UK's solar future potential

Some of the U.K.’s leading academics have joined forces to fully explore the country’s solar PV potential.

Researchers and scientists from leading educational institutions Imperial College London and Loughborough University, together with experts from aerial mapping company Bluesky, have begun a three-year study looking at the current state of the British solar industry that will assess its potential for future growth and the likely level of integration PV will achieve in the future.

Titled PV2025, the study is being led by Loughborough’s Professor Ralph Gottschlag, Dr. Paul Rowley and Dr. Tom Betts, and has been funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Other project partners include SMA Solar UK and energy company E.ON.

The study hopes to establish just how many solar panels are in operation throughout the U.K., where they are, and how much solar energy is collectively supplied to the grid. Armed with this information, the researchers are confident that they can map out an accurate solar future for the U.K.

As of the end of 2011, government figures stated that there were approximately 230,000 solar power projects in place in the U.K., and the government projects that by 2020, four million British households will be powered by solar energy – which would represent an estimated 22 GW solar capacity nationwide.

"Over an 18 month period we assessed the solar potential of more than half a million properties working with energy companies, local authorities, housing associations as well as property owners and solar panel installers," said James Eddy, Bluesky International’s technical director. "We developed a unique method of generating solar potential maps using photogrammetric techniques to accurately measure and record factors that may contribute to the suitability for solar power."

The PV2025 project will be divided into four distinct analysis areas: impacts on the electricity network; reductions in fuel poverty thanks to PV; infrastructure required to effectively distribute and manage PV growth, and regional differences in how solar PV electricity is produced and consumed.

Ultimately, the study hopes to answer how various PV installations are affected by government legislation and geographical variations.

In last week’s Autumn Statement, British chancellor George Osborne put the brakes on further solar subsidies, introducing instead a 50% tax break on shale gas, or fracking, companies.