The Seaham company looking to revolutionise global solar power and help tackle climate change

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The lightweight solar panels can bring power to remote locations and disaster zones.

Seaham based energy company Power Roll is pioneering the development of low cost, flexible and light weight solar panelling which could revolutionise renewable energy across the globe and help tackle climate change in the process.

With overwhelming evidence stacking up of our changing climate it’s becoming difficult for even the most extreme climate change sceptic to argue against the need to move towards renewable energy sources as we strive to reduce our carbon footprint.

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However, even renewable energy sources have environmental drawbacks and need to be affordable, practical and accessible if countries, particularly the world’s emerging economies, are to embrace this essential shift.

It’s a challenge being met head on by Power Roll who’ve spent the last 10 years investing £25m in research and development at their pilot plant to design and patent the new light weight solar panels which can literally be rolled out from a roll of plastic.

Neil Spann (left) and Ross Nagle with an example of the Power Roll solar panels.Neil Spann (left) and Ross Nagle with an example of the Power Roll solar panels.
Neil Spann (left) and Ross Nagle with an example of the Power Roll solar panels.

The idea was born over a decade ago by a meeting of minds when the company’s CEO Neil Spann met Seaham born Scientist, Dr John Topping at the University of Oxford.

Dr Topping’s initial design has been refined, patented and is now ready to be rolled out on a commercial level.

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Neil, 50, said: “It’s absolutely vital to develop our renewable sources of energy as we transition from fossil fuels and the demand for electricity continues to increase.

“Globally, in the next five years, we are going to need five times more electricity and by 2050, 40% of all our electricity is targeted to be solar.

“Our solar panels will look to provide low cost energy to millions of buildings around the world and drive the need for clean energy without breaking the bank and damaging the environment.”

With its lightweight and flexible design, Neil believes the new panels can help to revolutionise the solar energy industry.

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He said: “There’s a place for solar farms, but traditional panels are much heavier - about 25 times more - and more costly to produce. Traditional panels also contain a much higher proportion of carbon.

“There are around 12 billion buildings globally which can’t take the weight of traditional solar panels.

“Our panels can simply be rolled out and used on the rooftops of pretty much any structure.

“It means buildings and organisations can then generate their own power at a rate which is around a quarter of the cost of being on the grid.

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“We are also in discussions with airline companies who could use the panelling on their planes to help power the cabin electrics to help make air travel more environmentally friendly.

“Unlike big solar farms, the panelling is on the rooftops and is much less visible and so also has less of a visual impact on the natural environment.”

Neil also believes the lightweight and flexible nature of the product makes it an ideal solution to providing electricity to the world’s developing nations and emerging economies, which are currently some of the biggest carbon polluters.

Lead vacuum technician Chris Bunn at the final stage of the Power Roll production. Lead vacuum technician Chris Bunn at the final stage of the Power Roll production.
Lead vacuum technician Chris Bunn at the final stage of the Power Roll production.

He said: “There are currently still around 700 million people in the world living without electricity and many live in areas with high levels of sunshine. We plan on taking our solar panels to provide energy to some of these remote off-grid locations.

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“The panels can be rolled up and taken anywhere and so are also an ideal source of power in emergency situations in disaster zones.

“The panels could be sewn into tents used in emergency situations and the product is also really durable and so could be helicoptered in and dropped for people to use.”

The company has now reached then end of the product’s research and development stage and is ready to transition into commercial ventures.

Power Roll already employs 50 people and company hopes hundreds of new jobs will be created in the next few years.

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Chief manufacturing officer Ross Nagle, 56, said: “We have already identified a site in the Durham area for our commercial production.

“In the next 18 months we hope to scale up and be producing around 100 megawatts of electricity each year, which is the equivalent of 1 million square metres of Power Roll panels each year.

“In three years we hope this will have increased to 1 gigawatt which equates to around 6 million square metres per year.

“The transition will see a significant increase in employment opportunities with a workforce of up to 300 people.”

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One recent new recruit to the evolving business is apprentice in science and manufacturing, Joe Monks.

Apprentices Joe Monks and Jack Mason.Apprentices Joe Monks and Jack Mason.
Apprentices Joe Monks and Jack Mason.

Joe, 19, said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time at Power Roll and it’s vital we do something to help our planet with the development of renewable energy.”

While Neil and Ross are looking to globalise the Power Roll product they are determined the company’s roots will remain firmly in the North East.

Neil said: “I’m from the North East and the majority of people who work here are also from the region.

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“There’s a strong history of manufacturing in the region and we also have great universities.

“As we move into commercial production the excitement here is phenomenal as the change we can make globally is amazing.

“This product can make a big difference. I’m proud of what we’ve done and so excited about the next step.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about Power Roll’s solar panels can contact the company via the contact page on its website.

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