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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
New dawn for solar power

A Welsh technology firm has teamed up with a building company to produce a roof tile that converts sunlight into power.

The enterprise could mean that solar energy could be about to become a realistic proposition for homeowners.

The MD and chairman of Intersolar with the new tile [Intersolar photo]
The new panel looks like traditional slate tiles

If the project takes off, householders could soon be generating a quarter of their own electricity.

Solar panels have long been a power source favoured mainly by those right-on enough to lay out the extra expense required to harness the sun's rays.

Added to that, it has been one of the most expensive forms of renewable energy available.

But Intersolar, a Bridgend-based company which specialises in renewable energy products, is hoping to change that with a massive expansion programme for its solar panel.

In partnership with building firm Alfred McAlpine, Intersolar have developed a new energy-generating tile which looks almost identical to traditional slate.

"We are seeing a huge upturn in our sales," said Philip Bouverat of Intersolar.

Big Brother
C4's Big Brother house is powered by solar energy

"Interest coming from all areas whether it be government, business or the public is expanding every day. We feel that the time is absolutely right to expand massively.

"The technology is here, we have the technology. It's just a question of gearing up."

Mr Bouverat explained that the tile can be used alongside standard building slates, and can be fitted without specialist training by any roofing contractor.

He estimates that the average household would need 700 tiles to provide 20% of their electricity.

At present, this would cost between 5,000 and 8,000 to install. But the price is likely to drop substantially as production gets underway.

Fitting double glazing can cost 10,000 or even 20,000, an outlay which is unlikely to ever be recouped in energy savings.

Other British companies are also pioneering this type of technology. Solar Century is the group behind the energy-generating wall in the Big Brother house.

The first solar panels were just used to heat water, but the latest designs use photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight directly into electricity. The cost of these cells has fallen by 90% since the early 1970s.

See also:

05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
UK to get 18 wind farms
15 Jun 01 | Business
Shell explores alternative energy
17 Jan 00 | South Asia
Harnessing the sun's power
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