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Investing in a major solar array on its campus sports centre is helping the University of Exeter step up its sustainability drive as well as save on energy costs

Solar panels are a familiar part of the built environment, but size and scale are everything – entire roofs are being converted into sun-trapping sources of green energy as businesses realise the positive environmental impact and the cost-saving potential. Commercial and large-scale buildings are often perfectly placed to do this with large roofs and high energy consumption to match.

The University of Exeter campuses have around 275 buildings set within over 300 acres of grounds and over 20,000 students and 4,500 staff. As part of the first phase of its 2016-2026 Low Carbon Commitment Implementation Plan (LCCIP) it recently chose South West-based clean energy experts, SunGift Energy, after a competitive tender process to design and install a large-scale solar array of over 500 solar panels covering 800 square metres of roof space at the sports centre on its main campus. The University has several other small solar systems, but this system is by far and away the largest one they have had installed and more than doubles the University’s solar PV capacity on its campuses.

The 140.5kW PV system installed by SunGift is projected to generate 124,929 kWh of electricity annually for the University, roughly enough to power over 30 homes for a year based on average UK domestic electricity usage. Since its installation the solar array has already generated over 30,000kWh of electricity.

More than a robust CSR commitment, this project makes sound business sense for the University. one hundred per cent of the energy produced by the panels will be used on-site, maximising the University’s savings on their electricity bills and their carbon reduction. The installation was carried out during the University summer holiday, with the sports building remaining open to the public and students throughout the works.

This PV system is one of the first subsidy-free non-domestic PV systems installed in the UK. The vast majority of PV systems installed in the UK have claimed the Government’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) subsidy, but the University is already claiming the FIT for an earlier PV system on the site so under the scheme rules cannot claim the FIT for any more. Significant reductions in solar PV prices and rising energy prices mean that it is worth considering installing solar PV even without the FIT, which is ending for new PV systems from 31 March 2019.

Andy Seaman, Energy Manager at the University of Exeter, said: “The University has taken many steps in recent years to reduce its carbon emissions. We are committed to reducing our environmental impact and rising to this challenge as the University continues to grow. Alongside the financial and carbon savings; these projects will also deliver improvements to building environments that will help make them more comfortable for our staff and students to work and study in. We also value how many small actions make a big difference and will be working closely with our staff and students to empower them to take their own actions to help us reduce our carbon emissions and improve our environmental performance.”

The University has approved the first phase of its 2016-2026 LCCIP that will see investment in a range of projects, including solar PV installations, energy-efficient lighting, upgraded insulation and boiler replacements. Over their lifetime these projects are estimated to save £3.2 million on utilities and 4,628 tonnes of carbon – equivalent to the typical annual carbon emissions of approximately 600 UK households. The PV system installed by SunGift was the first project in the LCCIP.

Andy Seaman said: “To deliver a project of this size we had to partner with a company that understood our needs and could design an array that was tailored for us. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution and to create an installation that will deliver for us long into the future we needed something that was designed specifically for us. We intend to move forward with further similar projects in the near future.”

Gabriel Wondrausch, Founder and Managing Director of SunGift Energy said: “We are very excited to be working with the University of Exeter on its ongoing clean-energy projects, and we’re looking forward to our continued partnership. As we employ several Exeter alumni, it is good to see their knowledge feeding back into the University in such a positive way. This subsidy-free installation shows that producing your own electricity on-site is a sound investment, offering both financial returns and sustainability benefits.”

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