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Turning Indian villages into solar power stations: £7 million award for Swansea-led project, SUNRISE

Villages in India will benefit from Swansea University expertise in creating buildings that work as power stations, generating, storing and releasing their own power, thanks to £7 million of UK government funding. The money was awarded to a Swansea-led consortium of 12 UK and Indian universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Brunel, and Imperial College London.

The award illustrates Swansea University’s leading role in research in areas such as solar energy and steel, and the pioneering work on “buildings as power stations” carried out by the University-led SPECIFIC project, which recently opened the UK’s first energy-positive classroom.

The new solar project, called SUNRISE, will develop printed photovoltaic cells and new manufacturing processes, which can be used to construct solar energy products in India.  These will then be integrated into buildings in five villages, allowing them to harness solar power to provide their own energy and run off grid.

One of the key aims is to provide a real-life example which proves that this technology works, and that it is appropriate in these communities. The plan is that it will encourage local industries to manufacture affordable prefabricated buildings, adapted for their environment, that can generate, store and release their own power.

The project is in line with Indian government plans, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to turn the country into a solar energy leader, leap-frogging fossil fuels, and to boost the Indian manufacturing sector.

The concept of a building as a power station has already been proven to work, with the opening of the energy-positive classroom on the Swansea University Bay campus.

Designed and built by the SPECIFIC project, the classroom can run off grid.  Electricity is generated by a steel roof with integrated solar cells, supplied by SPECIFIC spin out company BIPVco.  It is connected to two saltwater batteries, which are being used in the UK for the first time and are capable of storing enough energy to power the building for two days.

The building also uses Tata Steel’s perforated steel cladding for generation of solar heat energy, which can be stored in a water-based system, and an electrically-heated floor coating that has been developed by SPECIFIC researchers.

Professor Dave Worsley of Swansea University, head of research at the SPECIFIC project, and leader of the SUNRISE team, said:

“The energy-positive classroom we built shows that this technology works, successfully turning buildings into power stations. This funding will enable us to export this model to support India’s plans to boost solar energy.

The Swansea team will be working closely with our partner universities in the UK and India.  Our hope is that if we can show this works on five villages in India, then it could be rolled out to other buildings in India and around the world.

To have Swansea University leading this project is recognition of our success with the energy-positive classroom, and proof of our research expertise in two of the most important industries of the 21st century, solar energy and steel.”

The £7 million award comes from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF),which supports cutting-edge research that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries.

Jo Johnson, UK Government Minister for Universities and Science, said:

“From healthcare to green energy, the successful projects receiving funding today highlight the strength of the UK’s research base and our leadership in helping developing countries tackle some of the greatest global issues of our time.

At a time when the pace of scientific discovery and innovation is quickening, we are placing science and research at the heart of our Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and maintain our status as science powerhouse.”

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