UK solar firm outlines global ambitions

Fresh from today securing £2.7m in new investment, UK solar panel specialist Whitfield Solar has set out plans to expand its operations in Spain and build a presence in emerging solar markets including Portugal, Greece, Italy, Australia, India and China.

The new investment round was led by the investment arm of the Carbon Trust and a private syndicate of new investors as well as existing investors the Cascade Fund and Kilsby Ltd, and is intended to provide the firm with the funding to bolster its manufacturing capabilities and underpin a major commercial rollout.

The company said it would initially focus on building up a sales and marketing presence in Australia and new EU markets before turning its attention to India and China, with a view to having commercially-available products in both markets by the end of next year.

"We are now planning to tap into a wealth of commercial opportunities, both in Europe and farther afield," said Whitfield chief executive Stephen Bates. " We are confident that this additional funding will provide the catalyst for us to grow the business in our existing European market and make significant inroads into the rapidly-expanding solar market in Asia-Pacific."

The latest funding round follows a series of successful tests at the company's location in Spain where it demonstrated its solar concentrator technology.

Whitfield, which was launched in 2004 as a spin-out from the University of Reading, specialises in lightweight solar panels that use an intelligent tracking system and electric motors to ensure the solar cells are in the optimum position during the day. It also uses an array of Fresnel lenses, similar to those used in lighthouses, to concentrate the sun's energy on the solar cells and significantly increase power output.

The company claims that the use of electric rather than hydraulic systems to track the sun's movement, coupled with the Fresnel lenses, means that it offers an attractive alternative to heavier and more costly solar concentrator systems.

"Our concentrator platform offers a fast track to solar grid parity, allowing more cost-effective deployment of high-efficiency cells," said Bates. "Our lightweight platform creates the opportunity for installations where load capacity is a key issue, such as rooftops."

Peter Linthwaite, managing partner at Carbon Trust Investment Partners, said that Whitfield provided a working example of the clean tech export opportunity that politicians and business leaders have been attempting to highlight in recent years.

"Whitfield Solar is a great example of a British business that has developed, and proven, a technology with truly global application," he said. "We believe this is a genuinely exciting investment opportunity that underlines the potential for UK clean tech businesses to act as a driver of the global low carbon economy."

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