In a bid to boost photovoltaic research in the UK, the University of Sheffield has begun the installation of what will be one of the largest roof mounted solar farms in the country to date.

The project is part of a £120,000 investment, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The installation will include 70m² of photovoltaic panels on the roof of the University's Hicks building, which the panels will power. The system will be utilized to field-test the university’s experimental photovoltaic cell designs in order to further the knowledge of renewable energy sources.

To monitor the effectiveness of the photovoltaic technology being tried and tested on the roof, equipment will log data and display it on a specially designed website for the Solar Farm. This will include a live web-cam and web-feed demonstrating the actual power being generated by each panel, the total power the sun is radiating on the roof and how the weather is affecting the amount of energy produced, as well as offer a comparison of the different photovoltaic technologies.

The University's Department of Physics and Astronomy is working on the development of next generation solar cells using plastic as opposed to silicon. These new solar cells will now be put to the test on the Solar Farm.

Dr Alastair Buckley, from the University's Department of Physics, who is leading the Sheffield Solar Farm project, said, “The Sheffield Solar Farm is an important venture as it is bridging the gap between the research lab and how solar cells are used in the real world. We want to find out how new solar technologies perform here in Sheffield and compare them to the existing state-of-the-art technologies. This will help to align our research into next generation cell designs with real world requirement, as well as informing customers, policy makers and other researchers which technologies are best for the UK.”

Professor Tony Ryan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science at the University of Sheffield, said, “Our planet is under real pressure; too many people, not enough energy or food, environmental destruction at an accelerating rate, unsustainable economic growth and increasing evidence of climate change. Harnessing the power of the sun more efficiently can help reduce this pressure. The University of Sheffield is strong in many areas of research relating to the sun, with overlapping expertise in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics as well as relevant expertise in related engineering, sociological and economic aspects. The Solar Farm unites researchers from a range of disciplines in a common cause.”

Dr Kevin Hard, Managing Director for EvoEnergy, who are installing the Sheffield Solar Farm, said, “Solar electricity is seen by many as an important part of the UK's Future Energy Mix. The new UK financial incentives for solar photovoltaics are enabling our clients to not only save energy but provide a return of eight to nine per cent on their solar investment. We see landmark projects such as the Sheffield Solar Farm and our relationships with the University of Sheffield as important steps to advancing the UK's energy security and helping us to combat climate change.”

The main installation of the new Solar Farm is expected to be complete by the beginning of July.