SolarPower Trials on Bodmin Moor
The following story was published on April Fools’ day 2013. Congratulations to Gill who was amongst the first to spot it for what it was….
A new light-weight solar-power system is to be trialled on Bodmin Moor, at three separate sites – to the west, east and north of Warleggan Parish. As always, comments (positive or negative) are welcome.
Three sites on the southern half of Bodmin Moor have been identified for the trials of an innovative solar-power generation system. Treslea Downs (the moorland between Mount and the Maidenwell road), Goonzion Downs (between Pantersbridge and St Neot) and Redhill Downs (a small area to the west of Colliford lake) have been selected as Britain’s testing grounds for the new ‘Solar Floater’ system of power generation, developed by scientists in Japan.
Unlike the traditional solar panels to be found widely across the country on roofs and in fields, the Solar Floaters are described as “attractive, innovative, light-weight and flexible”. Each Solar Floater consists of a large square (5m x 5m) helium-filled balloon, with ultra-light paper-thin photovoltaic cells painted onto the upper side. It has been likened to a large duvet. A key advantage of the Floater is that it doesn’t need a strong structure to support it; rather, because of the upward pull from the helium-filled balloons, all it needs is thin cables to tether it down to the ground. The lengths of the cables adjust automatically to ensure that the Floaters maintain an appropriate height from the ground (minimum 1 metre, maximum 5 metres) and that they continue to orient themselves exactly to face the sun as it moves across the sky. The Floater is easy to relocate, and they could be rotated from one field to another depending on the farmer’s requirements; another advantage cited is that, since arrays of Floaters are placed well above ground-level, they can be set up above gorse-bushes and even small hillocks, and there is nothing to stop moorland horses or farm animals grazing underneath them or resting in their shade. A network of underground cables will enable the power produced to be collected and exported to the National Grid.
The current plan is to trial 200 Solar Floaters (or half a hectare of coverage) at each site for a three-year period. It has been acknowledged, however, that since the Floaters need to be kept some space apart, the expected area affected will be approximately one hectare, or nearly 2½ acres at each site.
The innovative new PV cells used on the Floaters are said to be three times as efficient as the standard PV cells, enabling each Floater to produce 11,000 kWh in an average summer’s day. And although they are currently nearly ten times the price of their more solid cousins, it is expected that their price will fall significantly once demand rises, and may soon become more affordable than the old-style panels-based system, and will offer a highly attractive return on investment.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Environment Partnership (CIOSEP) has welcomed the news that Cornwall is to take the lead in this trial; a spokesman said that this is “evidence once more of the county’s green credentials, and of its active involvement in research and development in this exciting and important field, and … (we) hope to get the first trial started by June 2013”.
The Cornwall Council Planning Office have confirmed that, as long as the Solar Floater system will not entail the construction of any permanent structures, no application for planning permission would be required.