Flexible solar film rolled out in Africa and India

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Power Roll has installed two flexible solar photovoltaic mini grid systems in rural locations in Africa and India, as highlighted in new case study published by Innovate UK. 

The solar film is low-cost, light, easy to install and can be used off-grid. At scale, Power Roll's technology will produce electricity at a cost of $0.03/watt manufactured, at least 40 per cent cheaper than silicon PV, the company says. It weighs 0.3kg/m², which is as little as two per cent of current silicon PV products, according to Power Roll. The technology also requires no rare earth materials.

The systems have been installed in Africa and India as part of a trial supported by Innovate UK. It will help evaluate the performance of Power Roll’s solar film to help scale up and commercialise its technology further. 

Paul Laidler, project lead at Power Roll, explained: 'Until now it’s been about proving the technology, but now we are measuring what difference it can make to people’s lives; for example, allowing women entrepreneurs to expand their business and making it easier for kids to learn because they can study at night.'

The solar film will be produced as a roll and can be used on a variety of surfaces in off-grid settings; for example, curved around a technology pole or attached to a fragile roof. Its lightness and versatility provide advantages over silicon solar panels, not only where it can be deployed, but also in ease of transport.

The technology can be applied in a number of ways in off-grid settings, including lighting, charging laptops and mobile phones and pumping water for irrigation purposes.

Laidler said: 'We want to make solar energy affordable and available to everyone – and that means having a low-cost solution that works in off-grid locations where people have previously found it difficult to access power.'

Although the programme is concentrating on rural, off-grid locations in developing countries, Laidler says the mini grids could be installed anywhere in the world - including in the underdeveloped commercial rooftop market - and enable solar power to be generated where it is not possible today.

The technology will also help the UK achieve its target of becoming net zero by 2050. Through investment from Finance Durham and other investors, Power Roll is currently constructing a pilot plant in County Durham in the UK to further scale-up and commercialise the technology.