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ETP Review of Innovation in the Scottish Solar Energy Sector

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Solar PV

The amount of solar radiation striking the earth over a 3 day period is equivalent to all the energy stored in all fossil fuels. To increase the harnessing of this versatile energy source ETP works with partner SISER – Scottish Institute for Solar Energy Research to develop technologies for the more diffuse light levels typical in northern climates as well as technologies for developing countries. 

ETP expertise in solar energy
Thin-Film PV 

Thin-film PV cells are considerably thinner than regular silicon cells and, being  flexible, have the potential to be applied to many different places from building tiles, bodies of electric cars and textiles and clothing. ETP is developing ways to integrate thin-film PV on textiles, develop cheaper/ quicker manufacturing processes and develop new, more efficient, light harvesting materials.

Excitonic and Hybrid PV

Excitonic PV cells harness the sun’s energy in a similar way to plants, using polymers or dye molecules to absorb light energy and create the electrical current. These soluble materials provide the potential to manufacture large area flexible devices at low cost using machinery from the printing industry. ETP is synthesising new dyes and polymers and incorporating them into new cells to increase efficiency.

Next Generation PV

Next generation PV cells have potential efficiencies greater than regular silicon solar cells because they will be able to absorb a greater proportion of the sun’s solar energy spectrum. ETP is investigating several different methods, such as up and down conversion to increase the light- harvesting ability of solar cells.

Solar Thermal 

Low concentrating Solar Thermal uses flat plate or vacuum tube thermal collectors for hot water production for homes and businesses. High concentrating systems which use lenses or mirrors to concentrate the sun’s light are used for electricity generation e.g. using Stirling engines. Researchers in Scotland are investigating ways to increase the efficiency of all these systems.

Concentrating PV

Concentrating PV (CPV) involves the use of lenses and mirrors to focus and concentrate a large area of light directly onto the PV cells. This allows less PV material to be used, while still maintaining efficiency. ETP is developing new lenses and thermal management systems to increase the efficiency of CPV.

PV Systems 

PV systems comprise three main parts: the PV panels which generate the electricity; the load which extracts and uses the power e.g a device, a home or the grid; and the BOS (balance of system) i.e. all the other components that allows the PV generated electricity to be applied by the load e.g. inverters, cables/wires, switches, charge controllers, support racks and mounts, etc. and batteries in the case of off-grid systems. ETP researchers are investigating ways to better integrate these parts so that the systems work more effectively and efficiently with reduced energy losses.

Building Integrated PV

Solar energy is the easiest form of renewable energy to integrate into the fabric of a building. Building Integrated PV provides a way of developing the widespread use of PV. Researchers in Scotland are investigating ways to reduce the barriers to PV integration; for example the development of PV windows and the creation of more aesthetically pleasing PV installations. 

Scottish Energy Laboratory - Solar facilities

In partnership with ETP, energy sector test facilities have been brought together under the Scottish Energy Laboratory (SEL) umbrella. Facilities of particular relevance to the solar energy sector include:


Facility Name

SEL Member


Centre for Advanced Energy Storage and Recovery

Herriot watt University

SEL 10

Scottish Institute for Solar Energy research

Herriot watt University

SEL 12

Scottish Energy Centre (SEC)

Edinburgh Napier University

SEL 16

Electrical Power Systems Protection Laboratory

University of Strathclyde

SEL 17

Power Networks Demonstration Centre (PNDC)

University of Strathclyde

SEL 18

Energy Technology Test Facilities

University of Strathclyde

SEL 22

Integrated Energy Materials Process and Characterisation Facility

University of St Andrews

SEL 23

New Energy Materials Test Facility

University of St Andrews

SEL 24

Li-ion Battery Development Test Facility

University of St Andrews

SEL 27

ETC – Renewable and Low Carbo Energy Test Facility

Energy Technology Centre

SEL 28

ETC- Mechanical Test Facility

Energy Technology Centre

SEL 44

BRE Innovation Park Ravenscraig

Building Research institute (BRE)

For more details visit
 SISER wesite


Case Study - Soltrapy

Start-up company, Soltrapy, proprietor Stuart Speake started his enterprise with an Interface innovation voucher investigating a freeze-tolerant solar thermal system which could nearly halve the cost of solar thermal installations as a result of its new hot water tank not requiring installation.  ETP solar BDM intervention led him to enter the Shell Springboard competition (a useful lesson in marketing) and collaboration with Dr. Tadhg O’Donovan at Heriot-Watt University.

This collaboration lead to a grant of £ 6.5 K from the ETP consultancy fund being secured to build a prototype and carry out comparison testing with an incumbent solar thermal system.  Testing was carried out at the Heriot-Watt solar test site.  The two systems were just installed on the new Heriot-Watt solar test site and the comparison testing proved positive but also highlighted that the system behaved differently to the unmodified version and so new control strategy would be required.

Dr. O’Donovan also applied for an energy bursary from Heriot-Watt to fund an undergraduate student to look at developing a standardised model for LCOE and applying it to Soltropy’s technology (thus helping with undergraduate teaching and giving them work experience with a company at the cutting edge renewable sector).

Following this Soltropy and Dr. O’Donovan applied for Energy Catalyst funding (feasibility round 1) from Innovate UK to develop the technology further and investigate which strategy would be most appropriate.  Their application was successful and the project (total worth ~£205 K) is due to commence in the next two months.

For this company ETP involvement and support has made a significant impact allowing them to find appropriate academic expertise to assist them develop their technology - good relationship building between academia and industry.  Assistance with financial support and grant application support and overall a coherent source of support to Soltrapy.