Sustainable Zero-Carbon Solar Heating, Cooling and Power in Urban and Off-Grid Environments

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Department of Chemical Engineering


In order to accelerate renewable-energy penetration and meet ambitious emissions targets that have been set, further research and innovation are required to promote technologies in high-density urban environments, where low-carbon renewable energy has a significant potential to displace and mitigate environmental issues associated with fossil-fuel use (emissions/other pollutants), as well as in off-grid communities and micro-grids in rapidly-growing regions with a substantial solar resource.
Two-thirds of Africa's population is still lacking access to electricity, 80% of which lives in rural areas. Off-grid, distributed solar-energy supply has the potential to help Africa eradicate energy poverty, increase living standards, boost economic growth, while avoiding pollution, enhancing security, resilience and sustainability. Hybrid photovoltaic-thermal (PVT) systems are highly-suitable solutions for meeting the complete energy needs of urban and off-grid environments, as they generate both electrical and thermal outputs from the same area with a higher total efficiency than separate, standalone systems, and can be readily integrated with other technologies (e.g. for cooling, water or storage) within wider, wholistic energy systems. PVT technology is considered superior in terms of energy density (by 15-20%), and can reduce emissions by 30-40%, space by 20-30%, and investment costs by 10-20% compared to equivalent side-by-side PV and solar-thermal systems delivering the same energy outputs. This project will investigate the potential of a disruptive solar PVT concept (under development in separate projects), capable of providing up to 34x more useful energy compared to standard PV and 1.5-2x more energy than conventional PVT panels per unit area, thus outperforming best-in-class panels at a cost competitive with low-cost panels with much lower performance. This would be an unparalleled solution for simultaneous heating/cooling, hot and/or clean water provision, alongside electricity generation, in area-constrained or hot/arid regions with a significant solar resource and fast-growing developing economies.

The aims are to assess the combined technological, economic, environmental and social potential of this PVT-technology integrated into combined heating/cooling/power systems, identifying the most promising solutions and operating strategies for achieving higher yields in targeted locations at low-cost, including solutions to address solar intermittency, e.g. energy/water storage. This will be achieved by integrating technology models with advanced economic and environmental sustainability assessment methodologies, holistic considerations of the status and trends of energy prices, technology developments, regional resources and policies. Cost-competitiveness analyses over conventional supplies will be conducted by accounting for energy-price and technology-cost projections. Emissions and environmental impacts will be assessed by using life-cycle sustainability assessments.
Case studies will be conducted in collaboration with partners Desolenator (SSCP proposed collaborative partner) and Solar-Polar, in two diverse and highly-transferable representative settings: 1) urban environments, to reduce reliance on electricity grid and promote solar penetration; 2) rural micro-grids, to enable clean and affordable energy supply in developing, energy-poor regions. Workshops are planned to collect locally-relevant data on weather, environment and energy-use, and engage diverse, local stakeholders to discuss social and legislative barriers from their perspectives.
The project will demonstrate the affordability and sustainability potential of solar PVTbased whole-energy solutions, provide guidance to interested stakeholders, and insights for investment and policy development


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Sandwell P (2023) CLOVER: A modelling framework for sustainable community-scale energy systems in Journal of Open Source Software

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007415/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2027
2451429 Studentship NE/S007415/1 30/09/2020 08/10/2024 Benedict Winchester