Due to open its doors to the public in April, the BRE National Solar Centre in St Austell, Cornwall aims to drive innovation, cost reduction and to increase confidence in the marketplace through knowledge generation.
The centre will also engage with organisations outside the traditional scope of the industry to ensure that PV is “better understood”, BRE, the construction consultancy managing the centre said. A particular focus will be the construction industry which BRE said must improve its understanding of how to integrate PV products better with buildings.
With funding from the EU and support from Cornwall Council and DECC, the centre will provide analysis, data collection and publications to create a “full and authoritative knowledge base” for the industry, a so-called “observatory for best practice”, as well as support for the industry as it develops performance standards.
It will also provide support for UK solar companies looking to enter the global marketplace, as well as due diligence consultancy and testing for new build installations, fault finding, verification and optimisation for existing systems, and product development for building-integrated PV.
“We have a real opportunity here to drive the uptake of solar PV,” said BRE director Nick Tune. “There are significant opportunities to support the development of building integrated PV products and the interaction of PV with commercial buildings. We will also look at issues around smart grids, storage, power output prediction and more – all critical factors for improving the long term performance of the technology and creating confidence in its future.’
The launch comes after solar PV was identified by the government as a key player in the UK’s renewable energy goals for the first time. The Renewables Roadmap update, released by DECC in December, reported a five-fold increase in PV capacity in the year from July 2011 and 2012, as well as a 50% drop in costs. The National Solar Centre aims to help the industry cut these costs further.
“Solar is an exciting and rapidly growing clean, green source of power and has a valuable part to play in the UK’s energy mix,” said UK energy minister Greg Barker. “The new Cornwall based National Solar Centre will help drive down costs, improve efficiency, catalyse growth, spur innovation and develop expertise on the ground.”
The news was given a warm welcome by the solar industry. “This is great news for the UK solar industry, and very timely,” said Solar Trade Association (STA) CEO Paul Barwell. “Given the rapid growth of the industry in the past two years, there is a real need for an independent centre of information and expertise.”
He added: “Price isn’t everything. Training, communications, development of standards, data aggregation and analysis – this is all equally vital if the UK is to fully realise the potential of solar PV and thermal technologies.”