North East firms capitalise on solar potential

MORE THAN 80 representatives from businesses and public sector organisations flocked to a national photovoltaic (PV) conference to explore opportunities to capitalise on a fast growing renewable energy sector.

 Representatives from businesses across the region and the UK, attended the Solar Flair 10 conference organised by the County Durham Development Company (CDDC) at Lumley Castle, Chester-le-Street to hear from world leading speakers about key changes and advancements in the industry.

 Industry expert Phil Crosby of the Square Kilometre Array Telescope Project said there are real opportunities for the North East to benefit from the solar energy revolution.  Mr Crosby, one of 17 speakers at Solar Flair, said that the North East could, and already is, playing a key role in a number of projects in this growing sector.

 The CA Group is one North East business that looks set to capitalise on the opportunities the sector presents.  The Bishop Auckland-based metal roofing and cladding manufacturer has started to design and deliver PV systems into large-roof buildings.  Commercial director, Brian Watson believes that there are real commercial opportunities in developing PV products.

 He said: “The largest PV installation on a roof in the UK so far is 100kV and we have talked about doing it 28 times bigger. 

 “We see real potential in PV.  The North East is well situated to take advantage of the opportunities presented by PV, on existing building stock and some of the opportunities that are likely to come up in the North East.”

 Another business that has already tapped into photovoltaics is Romag Ltd.  Kevin Webster, managing director, was one of the speakers at the event.  He said there has been a real step change in the business since the Government introduced its feed-in tariff, but that the region needs a simple, open and transparent business support system, to help it take advantage of the opportunities that exist. 

 Mr Webster, said: “There is a lot of scope for the North East in this sector. 

 “This is an industry that will be here for a long time to come.  There needs to be investment in businesses in this sector that have a long term future here in the North East.”

 The event was attended by representatives from the Centre for Renewable Energy at Durham University, London South Bank University, and the Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network (ESP-KTN).    

 The event, which was organised by CDDC on behalf of the event’s financial backer ESP-KTN, came as the Government stepped up its drive to channel more solar-generated power into the national grid.  Speakers at the event explored how government incentives could present fresh opportunities for the sector, as well as examining how solar power could be used in sectors such as construction, space technology and power generation.

 CDDC’s managing director Stewart Watkins said: “The conference brought together leaders on the frontline of the solar energy revolution, and presented a unique opportunity for us to profile the North East, and its businesses to national and international audience.

 “There are vast opportunities that exist in this sector, that this region is well placed to take advantage of, and showcasing the facilities and infrastructure we benefit from in this corner of the country will go some way towards positioning County Durham and North East England as a location of choice for businesses in this sector in the future.”

 Alongside Mr Watkins, other speakers at the event included representatives from the UK’s national flagship printable electronics facility PETEC, based at NETPark, County Durham, Romag plc, Devereux Architects and Spectrolab Boeing, among others.

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