University of West of England to install largest single rooftop PV array in UK higher education sector

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The University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, is to install a 450 kW solar PV array atop a 10,000 square meter roof at its main Frenchay Campus on the outskirts of the city.

The planned array will be the largest single rooftop installation across the U.K.’s higher education sector once completed, and will generate more than 400 MWh of solar electricity annually for self-consumption onsite.

Forming part of UWE’s new Enterprise Zone, the 1,700 panels will be fitted on to the rooftop of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) building. The university estimates that the array will produce enough clean energy to meet 50% of the building’s power needs per year, saving £55,000 ($73,000) in bills per year.

Total investment costs are estimated at £650,000, meaning the array will have paid for itself within 12 years, while also reducing carbon emissions by around 200 tonnes per year. UWE will also develop a combined heat and power (CHP) system alongside the PV array in a project that will also mitigate the effects of around 1,100 tonnes of CO2 annually.

"The university will use 100% of the power generated by the PV array, so we are not expecting to return any energy back to the grid," said UWE’s Fabia Jeddere-Fisher.

"With both the Solar PV and CHP on site, it puts us in a strong position for demand-side response projects, and on-site energy storage, so that energy generated earlier in the day could be stored to be used at peak times (e.g. 5-7pm) when demand on the U.K. grid is greatest. This not only will reduce fixed charges to the University, but can have a positive impact on the national grid."

Jeddere-Fisher added that support from the Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils has been strong, aiding UWE’s energy efficiency efforts that led to the university picking up two awards in the recent Go Green Business Awards 2016.

Councillor John Goddard, who is chair of South Gloucestershire Council’s resources sub-committee, said: "This new initiative will form part of a wider ‘District Heating Network’, which we are exploring with our colleagues at Bristol City Council. It is an important step forward when a large institution installs a system like this that demonstrates commitment to alternative forms of energy."

Commercial-scale rooftop solar systems in the U.K. number around 50,000 and contribute 1.2 GW to the country’s cumulative installed capacity of PV. However, with recent changes in subsidy support cascading across the entire solar landscape in the U.K., this sector is seen by many in the industry as perhaps the most fertile ground for continued growth.

Rooftop solar, including residential, accounts for 4.1 GW of PV capacity in the U.K., but industry bodies believe that self-funded projects such as this one at UWE, or installations backed by a third-party lease or PPA, could grow to become a major driver for change in the distributed generation sector of the U.K.