Flat Holm, a small limestone island in Britain’s Bristol Channel, has no permanent residents and minimal infrastructure. The area’s low energy needs have therefore been fulfilled using old-fashioned solar panels and a diesel generator. The picturesque landmass is now, however, becoming increasingly popular with tourists wishing to explore the rural landscape and view the island’s seabird colonies.
Though this is welcome news, meeting the island’s growing energy needs without ruining its pristine environment poses a challenge. Flat Holm team leader Natalie Taylor says, "As we promote the island more and we get more visitors here, there's going to be a lot more demand for electricity so it's really important that we've got a really high functioning system that can provide for those people. From an environmental point of view, we want to reduce the use of diesel generators so that we can have as small an ecological footprint as possible."
While the Cardiff Council, which oversees the island, considered traditional solar and hydroelectricity, it was reluctant to implement either, due to their high cost and permanent nature. According to energy and sustainability manager Gareth Harcombe, the officials were seeking a portable option that could be moved if the site was needed for another purpose.
Fortunately UK-based startup Renovagen had the perfect solution. The company’s Rapid Roll Solar PV system comprises flexible solar panels that can be unrolled like a carpet from a trailer and instantly put to work. According to the company, a small panel can provide 11kW of power within two minutes. A more extensive version, unrolled from a shipping container, can yield 300kW of electricity in less than an hour.
The technology is the brainchild of Renovagen’s Managing Director John Hingley, who came up with the idea after seeing a similar concept used as a backup battery for mobile devices about five years ago. In addition to being easy to deploy, the rollable panels are also more cost-effective to transport. Hingley says, “Compared with traditional rigid panels, we can fit up to 10 times the power in this size container."
The solar panel “carpets,” laid on the island in early October, are being used to provide electricity to its sole pub and lighthouse. The Cardiff Council also plans on using them to charge two Nissan e-NV200 electric vehicles in the future.
In addition to providing power to remote islands like Flat Holm, Hingley hopes the Rapid Roll technology will be useful in areas affected by natural disasters. A good example is Puerto Rico, where most residents have been without electricity since Hurricane Maria destroyed the power lines in late September.