Ed Fortune is a professional technology consultant. In between fixing computers for some of the UK’s largest firms, he also writes science fiction as well as science fact. He can be found here.
By Ed Fortune
Wales has a proud history of pioneering alternative technology, so it should surprise few that Aberaeron-based Blaencamel Farm has this week become one of the first to announce that all its electricity needs are met via solar panelling.
Indeed, the installation of the 39 panels has been so successful that the farm’s owner is able to sell some of the electricity back to the National Grid, and is even considering building his own electric-powered farming vehicle.
All this may seem far-fetched as, when we think of solar power, we imagine it to be reserved for those lucky enough to live in sun-soaked places like Spain or California. We should not be so sceptical; green technology is nothing new to Wales. After all, The Centre for Alternative Technology in Powys has been promoting environmentally-friendly inventions for over 35 years. It may come as a surprise, however, that this often rainswept nation also leads the way in revolutionary solar power technology.
Cardiff-based G24 Innovations produce a special sort of solar panel known as a Grätzel Cell. Invented by Swiss scientist Michael Grätzel, these relatively low-cost, dye-sensitised solar cells absorb light in a way similar to the leaves of plants. It uses this light to generate an electrical charge, which we can then use in the normal way. Recent developments also mean that provided there is some light, some power will always be generated via these sorts of cells, which means you don’t have to worry about the weather.
These local-made solar panels are lighter, cheaper and more efficient than the solar panels most are familiar with. This puts solar energy in the hands of not only small businesses, but also the consumer. And this is where it gets interesting: a Government scheme known as the ‘Feed-In Tariff’ pays those with solar panels fitted on their homes a small amount of money, provided any power not used by the home owner is fed into the National Grid. Unsurprisingly, various solar-panel installation firms have decided to take advantage of the scheme and are offering to fit solar panels to homes for free. The catch is that the firm keeps the grant money and also still owns the panels. This means they have to insure and maintain them for you, and you can’t remove them until the contract with the firm is up, but it does mean that homeowners can benefit from free power. During the day, of course.
The UK Government recently announced that they would be adding further restrictions to the scheme, but a full review has yet to take place. Even so, if the cost of power continues to rise and price of solar cells continues to drop, we could very well see this Welsh-made technology becoming a common site across the UK.