As NIMBY Spreads To Solar In the UK, Power Roll’s Super Thin Solar Film Offers A Way

Highlights :

  • Power Roll, a UK firm, claims that its thin film solar innovation is close to being market ready.
  • If it does deliver, it will be a significant step up for solar applications and versatility.

Thin Film solar has always occupied space as a miracle solar solution, if only if it was as efficient and cheap. It seems we might  be getting close to that situation soon. And driving it there is a resistance building up towards conventional ground mounted solar, as communities in the UK have resented the land it takes up. Much like how wind energy turbines have been called eyesores and bird killers, or nuclear plants have been banished from populated areas, or thermal plants targeted for the pollution they cause. The Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon hitting solar is actually making a case for thin film solar to be developed faster.

Why Thin Film?

Thin-film solar panels are panels built from lightweight and often flexible materials, and they aren’t yet competitive with traditional residential solar products but, could be potential alternatives of the PV modules. They are better than traditional solar modules (mono or polycrystalline panels) in terms of much lower carbon emissions in their making, light-weighted, and more flexible. Thus, they promise all the goodness of solar power (zero emissions) without the blight of taking up land or ‘ungainly’ rooftop sights.

Adding to the challenge is the  issue of total coverage of south-facing commercial building roofs being too low, making regular solar a non optimal solution to generate more energy. One reason the UK gets less than 1 percent of its energy from solar currently.  

Enter Power Roll

If its the UK, then an unconventional solution is never  to far away. This time , it is Power Roll, located in Sunderland, UK. The firm claims that it has developed a unique, flexible, lightweight Solar Film that is capable of producing ultra-low-cost electricity. At USD 0.03/Watt to manufacture, it’s up to 20 times cheaper than existing flexible PV solutions and delivers the lowest levelised energy cost of any solar technology. It has microgrooves that are smaller than human hair, in a 0.1mm thick flexible film. Those are truly huge claims, and will be tested soon enough. It is its microgroove technology, and claimed efficiency of 11 percent that makes the firm confident it is close to providing a real alternative to hitherto ‘clunky’ solar installs. It is now actively seeking manufacturing partners to scale up 

Applications:

Power Roll claims that not only solar electricity generation but, by applying different coatings to its versatile microgroove design, Power Roll can also use the film for energy storage and to manufacture capacitors, according to the firm. Power Roll’s microgroove film is suitable for non-load-bearing rooftops, building integration, transport, portable applications, off-grid projects, and IoT (Internet of Things) sensors.

At a pilot in  India, the solar film developer is carrying a pilot scheme that will use its solar film to bring affordable electricity to rural villages in the Himalayan region. These films will power water pumps to support irrigation, lights to help students study at night, and provide electricity for phones.

“Today’s solar technologies are either too expensive to deploy or their rigidity and weight make them unsuitable for the job. Our low-cost, flexible and lightweight solar film enables the use of renewables for a host of brand new applications,” is the pitch from Power Roll.

Closer home in the UK, an activist group, Save Alfreton Countryside (SAC), a team of local volunteers working together to raise awareness of the huge solar park application from developer Kronos since January 2021 have turned to Power roll as a better option. They, along  with other local residents are opposing the planning application for large-scale ground-mounted solar PV farms in Amber Valley, which will ‘dramatically impact’ the heritage, landscape, and biodiversity in the region, according to them 

“The plan, by the German company Kronos Solar, would see an area the size of 150 football pitches near the town of Alfreton covered with ground-mounted panels up to 2.8 meters high.

“When we saw what Power Roll was doing, it just seemed like the perfect solution, because it is lightweight, flexible, and cost-effective solar,” said John Cleary, chairman of the Alfreton community action group.

Will Power Roll deliver a solution that is viable ? If it does, it will certainly make for headline news. If it doesn’t, the solar sector still has to contend with the spread of the NIMBY culture to its installations. Watch this space!

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