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North East firms capitalise on solar potential


MORE THAN 80 representatives from businesses and public sector organisations flocked to a national photovoltaic (PV) conference to explore opportunities to capitalise on a fast growing renewable energy sector.

Representatives from businesses across the region and the UK, attended the Solar Flair 10 conference organised by the County Durham Development Company (CDDC) at Lumley Castle, Chester-le-Street to hear from world leading speakers about key changes and advancements in the industry.

Industry expert Phil Crosby of the Square Kilometre Array Telescope Project said there are real opportunities for the North East to benefit from the solar energy revolution. Mr Crosby, one of 17 speakers at Solar Flair, said that the North East could, and already is, playing a key role in a number of projects in this growing sector.

The CA Group is one North East business that looks set to capitalise on the opportunities the sector presents. The Bishop Auckland-based metal roofing and cladding manufacturer has started to design and deliver PV systems into large-roof buildings. Commercial director, Brian Watson believes that there are real commercial opportunities in developing PV products.

He said: “The largest PV installation on a roof in the UK so far is 100kV and we have talked about doing it 28 times bigger.

“We see real potential in PV. The North East is well situated to take advantage of the opportunities presented by PV, on existing building stock and some of the opportunities that are likely to come up in the North East.”

Another business that has already tapped into photovoltaics is Romag Ltd. Kevin Webster, managing director, was one of the speakers at the event. He said there has been a real step change in the business since the Government introduced its feed-in tariff, but that the region needs a simple, open and transparent business support system, to help it take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

Mr Webster, said: “There is a lot of scope for the North East in this sector.

“This is an industry that will be here for a long time to come. There needs to be investment in businesses in this sector that have a long term future here in the North East.”

The event was attended by representatives from the Centre for Renewable Energy at Durham University, London South Bank University, and the Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network (ESP-KTN). 

The event, which was organised by CDDC on behalf of the event’s financial backer ESP-KTN, came as the Government stepped up its drive to channel more solar-generated power into the national grid. Speakers at the event explored how government incentives could present fresh opportunities for the sector, as well as examining how solar power could be used in sectors such as construction, space technology and power generation.

CDDC’s managing director Stewart Watkins said: “The conference brought together leaders on the frontline of the solar energy revolution, and presented a unique opportunity for us to profile the North East, and its businesses to national and international audience.

“There are vast opportunities that exist in this sector, that this region is well placed to take advantage of, and showcasing the facilities and infrastructure we benefit from in this corner of the country will go some way towards positioning County Durham and North East England as a location of choice for businesses in this sector in the future.”

Alongside Mr Watkins, other speakers at the event included representatives from the UK’s national flagship printable electronics facility PETEC, based at NETPark, County Durham, Romag plc, Devereux Architects and Spectrolab Boeing, among others.

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Media: For more information contact Louise Robinson at Stride PR on 0191 383 0960 or

Notes for editors:
NETPark Net is a virtual innovation network for companies operating or planning to operate within the Science, Engineering and Technology sectors.

It provides companies with direct access to online collaboration and business development tools as well as business support services including access to expertise, market intelligence, innovation management, tenders and opportunities as well as one-to-one clinics, workshops and events, and a virtual office facility. NETPark Net allows science and technology companies to access the innovation support offered by the North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield, County Durham.

The project is part financed by the European Union’s ERDF Competitiveness programme 2007-13, securing £0.22m of ERDF investment through the Regional Development Agency One North East. The ERDF programme is bringing over £250m into the North East to support innovation, enterprise and business support across the region. This project has received funding from Durham County Council through County Durham Development Company.

NETPark – the North East Technology Park - is located in Sedgefield, County Durham. It is North East England’s premier science, engineering and technology park for the commercialisation of cutting edge R&D, where companies lead the way in developing world-class technologies, creating new products and new markets.

* The ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-13 for North East England is managed by One North East on behalf of the European Commission, national government and regional partners.

* ERDF 2007-13 is focusing on:
Innovation – promoting science, technology and innovation in businesses and institutions across the region.

Enterprise and business support – encouraging more people to start up in business, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, and helping established businesses develop, grow and innovate.

* More than £300m ERDF investment is available for the region from 2007-13. ERDF investment is limited to 50% of total eligible cost and must be matched by other public and private sources. For every pound of ERDF investment, regional partners lever in another pound for the key priorities of innovation, enterprise and business support.

* The programme is underpinned by the three important cross cutting themes of environmental sustainability, equality of opportunity and sustainable communities.

County Durham Development Company is the innovation and strategic investment arm of Durham County Council, responsible for maximising the positive economic impact of the knowledge-driven economy in County Durham for the benefit of the people and businesses of County Durham. CDDC is responsible for managing and promoting NETPark.