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Power roll: bringing cheap solar power to Africa and India

Supported by Innovate UK, Power Roll is developing, testing, and implementing lightweight, low-cost, flexible solar mini grid systems in India and Africa.

Power Roll has installed two mini solar grid systems in rural locations in Africa and India. These grids demonstrate the use of their innovative solar film and energy storage technologies that have the potential to disrupt the global solar power market.

Paul Laidler, project lead at Power Roll, yesterday explained:

The mini solar grid systems use flexible solar PV that is thin, light, easy to install and can be used off-grid. This makes it very attractive to communities who might struggle to get access to technology, particularly if their location is remote.

Power Roll’s solar film will be produced as a roll and can be used on a variety of surfaces in off-grid settings; for example, curved around a technology pole or attached to a fragile roof. Its lightness and versatility give it numerous advantages over silicon solar panels not only where it can be deployed, but also in ease of transport.

The technology can be applied in a number of ways in off-grid settings, including lighting, charging laptops and mobile phones and pumping water for irrigation purposes.

Laidler yesterday said:

We want to make solar energy affordable and available to everyone – and that means having a low-cost solution that works in off-grid locations where people have previously found it difficult to access power.

At scale, Power Roll’s solar technology will generate electricity at a cost which is at least 40% cheaper than silicon PV, and it weighs as little as 2% of current silicon PV products, which is a distinct advantage.

The technology will also help the UK achieve its target of becoming net zero by 2050.

Power Roll participated in two Energy Catalyst brokerage events and achieved funding as a result. It received £492,000 in grant funding to develop, test and demonstrate its technology at an Energy Catalyst round 5 event. It recently attracted a further £515,000 in grant funding at an Energy Catalyst round 7 event. This second round requires the Sunderland-based company to include improvements to social inclusion and gender equality in its project scope.

Laidler yesterday explained:

Until now it’s been about proving the technology, but now we are measuring what difference it can make to people’s lives; for example, allowing women entrepreneurs to expand their business and making it easier for kids to learn because they can study at night.

Although the programme is concentrating on rural, off-grid locations in developing countries, Laidler says the mini grids could be installed anywhere in the world, including in developing countries, where they could open up the underdeveloped commercial rooftop market and enable solar power to be generated where it is not possible today.

Through investment from Finance Durham and other investors, Power Roll is currently constructing a Solar Film pilot plant in County Durham to further scale-up and commercialise the solar film technology.

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