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New solar panel unveiled in Swaffham

PUBLISHED: 10:44 30 July 2010 | UPDATED: 14:53 02 August 2010

IT'S a dazzling piece of sun-seeking technology - but barely a glint reflects from its sleek panels.

IT'S a dazzling piece of sun-seeking technology - but barely a glint reflects from its sleek panels.

And that's because this giant photovoltaic array is designed to absorb light, silently transforming it into a clean and unending source of electricity.

The UK's largest tracking solar panel, able to pursue the sun across the sky, was officially switched on at the Ecotech Centre in Swaffham last week.

The £50,000 array of 44 silicon cells is mounted on a sophisticated mechanism which tilts and turns to follow the arc of the sun from dawn until dusk, making it up to 30pc more efficient than static units.

Positioned at the foot of the towering wind turbine run by green energy firm Ecotricity, the solar array is expected to generate 7,500 units of electricity per year to power the centre, with any surplus sold on to the National Grid.

But as well as reducing electricity bills, centre bosses hope it could also mark a new horizon for the fledgling solar power industry - and a unique education opportunity for visitors and school groups.

Ecotech manager Stuart Weaver said: “Our huge new solar tracker is a fantastic sight and a great addition to the centre, showing people the power of the sun, right alongside that of the wind with our famous turbine. It's going to be hugely beneficial in terms of the education.

“It is very important for us, but also for the future. There is certainly room for growth in solar technology in this country, especially when you compare our daylight hours with a country like Germany, which has 3,000 of these units compared to the UK's three.

“We are looking forward to 20 years time when we can say we had the largest solar tracker in the country, of which there are now many.”

The 10x5m array will adjust its path depending on the time of year, and even register the faintest glimmer of light from a full moon. Information recorded will be used in the centre's education programme.

It was officially switched on by Ecotech chairman Ian Monson, who also announced the centre would be open seven days a week during August for the school holidays.

“What we have here is something that's fairly new to this country, and the biggest unit of its kind,” he said. “That is a great coup and a great privilege for us, which will cut our energy bills down considerably while giving this important educational element for children.

“It is also about raising public awareness about the possibility of micro-generation. This is potentially something - although perhaps a smaller model - which you could have to generate power for your own home.”

The solar array has been joint-funded by the Ecotech Centre, Ecotricity, the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and the National Lottery. The centre hopes the energy savings will recoup the cost within eight years.

For details on the new solar array, or to climb the wind turbine, contact 01760 726100 or visit www.ecotech.org.uk.

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