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Nick Clegg officially opens Sheffield Solar Farm
Solar panel on the roof of Sheffield University
One of the solar panels, making up Sheffield Solar Farm installed by EvoEnergy

A new solar farm has been officially opened in Sheffield by Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

It's one of dozens of renewable energy projects springing up around South Yorkshire.

Solar panels, wind turbines, even water power are making an appearance as individuals and organisations try to save money and save the planet.

Sheffield Solar Farm is an array of 70m² photovoltaic panels on the roof of the University of Sheffield's Hicks Building on Hounsfield Road.

Photovoltaic panels (PV panels) take energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

The ones at Sheffield Solar Farm provide electricity to the building itself and to the National Grid.

The solar array is also being used to test new and experimental designs.

In the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, work is underway to develop new generations of solar cells using plastic as opposed to silicon which will make them cheaper.

Dr Alastair Buckley from the University's Department of Physics, who is leading the Sheffield Solar Farm project, said: "It is an important venture as it is bridging the gap between the research lab and how solar cells are used in the real world."

Not far away from the Hicks Building, at Heeley City Farm, is South Yorkshire Energy Centre, based in a terraced house which has been extensively refurbished in an eco-friendly way.

South Yorkshire Energy Centre
South Yorkshire Energy Centre, with solar panel and solar kiln

The Centre uses a 'Ground Source Heat Pump' which draws heat from the ground, 'multiplies it' and circulates it round the building.

Hot water comes from photovoltaic panels placed on the roof.

There is also a wind turbine to generate additional energy.

The Centre educates people about renewable energy and how they can benefit from the government's Feed-in-Tariff where householders are rewarded for the energy they generate and feed in to the National Grid.

Look across the city and the new £60m Sheffield City College dominates the skyline around it, partly thanks to the trio of roof mounted wind turbines.

Energy from the turbines - which are 15 metres tall and stand 48 metres above ground level - is fed back into an energy distribution system for the college's tower block.

The college also boasts solar panels and rainwater recycling facilities.

Turbines on Sheffield City College
Sheffield City College building, with its three turbines on the roof

Julie Byrne is Executive Director of Sheffield City College: "Sustainability has been a key element of the design process of this exceptional building and will reduce the running costs, educate learners and staff in energy use and conservation."


But these technologies are not without their detractors.

For instance, one plan for six wind turbines at Penny Hill near Ulley Dam in Rotherham generated thousands of objections.

People living near the site were worried about the visual impact, the noise and the effect on wildlife.

The developers behind the scheme, Banks Renewables, said the turbines, each 132m high, would generate enough power for more than 6,000 homes.

It was finally given planning approval in May 2010.

There have been objections already to a proposal for a waste treatment plant on the old Manvers Colliery site at Bolton on Dearne, even though it has not been decided what kind of plant might be built there.

The choice for the three councils in the area, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, lies between two proposals: one involves waste recycling and incineration, the other involves recycling and drying any remaining waste, so it bio-degrades and composts, instead of being incinerated.

Barnsley already has a biomass plant which uses waste wood to heat council tenants' homes and council offices. Figures from Barnsley Council estimate more than 2000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year are saved by the scheme.

Community energy

And it is not just companies and local authorities getting involved in renewable energy schemes.

Sheffield Renewables was formed by a group of volunteers who are interested in the issues of climate change and energy sources.

The group has plans for two hydro-electric plants in Sheffield, at Jordan Dam and Kelham Island.

River at Kelham Island
The water power potential at Kelham Island

The research and feasibility studies have been funded by grants but the group intends to finance the building of the schemes by issuing shares to local people to create a community-owned power plant.

It is estimated that a hydro-electric plant at Jordan Dam would generate 310 megawatt hours a year - enough to power between 70 and 80 local homes.

The plans for the Kelham Island water wheel are some way off, as work needs to be done to prepare the area.

But the results of the ecological survey at Jordan Dam are expected in the next couple of weeks, opening the way for the next stage in group's ambitious plans.

The Secretary for State for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Huhne, has acknowledged that the UK lags behind most of western Europe on renewables.

Given that the coalition government has an aim of being the "greenest-ever", it's likely we can expect more renewable energy schemes around our towns and cities in the future.

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