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The University of Sunderland install Solar Panels

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MA Journalism student, Declan Wiseman, gives an insight into the newly installed solar panel array at the University of Sunderland, which will help to cut down on carbon emissions and produce free, zero-carbon power. 

Solar Panels at the University of Sunderland

The University of Sunderland has installed a new solar panel array on campus which will help to cut down on carbon emissions and produce free, zero-carbon power.

The new photovoltaic array, or solar panels, were installed on the roof of CitySpace in April 2021 and are predicted to generate 94,000kWh of free, zero-carbon electricity per year. This equates to power for 32 family homes for a year or the equivalent of 440,000 electric car miles a year.

Marc Charlton, Energy Manager for The University of Sunderland, said: “Almost all of this energy will be used within the building, so it will reduce the amount of grid-supplied electricity we need to purchase. It does have the theoretical capability to export to the grid, but it is financially more beneficial to use self-generated electricity than to sell exported energy.”

The University of Sunderland produces around 10,000 tonnes of C02 per year, and it costs around £2.3m per year for electricity, gas and water.

Solar panels are a fantastic source of green energy, but only recently have they begun to be installed en-masse across the UK.

The recent uptake in solar power nationally is largely thanks to reduced costs. Government funding has also helped in supporting the rise of solar power.

This is also the case for the University of Sunderland, who use a special fund called the Salix Revolving Green Fund, which is a pot of money that the government funded several years ago. It is a ‘revolving’ fund because it takes the savings made by existing energy conservation work so that there can be spending on new projects.

So, when will the University make a return on the cost of the solar panels?

The return on investment will depend on the rate of energy price inflation over the coming years, but the project is expected to return the initial investment in 5-7 years through energy savings.

There are now more than 1m solar panel installations across the UK providing 13,512MW (May 2021), which accounts for an increase in output by 1.4% since May 2020, and over a 6000% increase compared to 2008 levels.

Putting solar panels on the roof of a house is one thing, but installing it for university use requires a great deal of planning. Despite some unexpected hurdles in the earlier stages, which included some delays due to Covid restrictions, once the project started on site, the installation itself took less than three weeks to complete.

To put it simply, solar panels generate electricity using energy from the sun. There’s a device called an inverter which then allows this electricity to be used in buildings on campus.

The electricity produced by the solar panels can also be supplemented with extra power from the National Grid. While it is possible to export any extra electricity to the grid, this particular installation at CitySpace solar will do more to help reduce the amount of energy required from the grid rather than exporting lots of energy to it. 

These new solar panels are just one of the latest completed energy projects by the university to take steps towards reducing carbon emissions and cutting utility bills.

From installing air source heat pumps inside St Mary’s building, the oldest building on campus, to setting up Building Management Systems, right through to LED lights, there are many ways in which the University is improving the energy efficiency of its campuses at St Peter's and City Campus.

The University of Sunderland is also working with and alongside Sunderland City Council in the fight against carbon emissions.

Although this specific installation was not a collaborative project with the Council, there are other carbon reduction projects on which the University, the Council and other key partners are collaborating on, and it is  expected that there will be many more as  carbon reduction plans for the city progress.

Sunderland City Council have ambitious carbon-neutral targets for their operations and for the whole city by 2030 and 2040 respectively.

As a key partner organisation, the University has supported and collaborated on the development of the Low Carbon Action Plan for the city, meeting regularly with multiple colleagues at the council to discuss a wide range of carbon reduction strategies and projects, to share best practice and to align the carbon reporting of all partner organisations across the city.

To see a full overview of the university’s actions and future plans to manage energy consumption, costs and emissions, click here.

Published: 22 November 2021