Solar panels could prove a shining light for Manchester

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The Independent Online

Manchester may be more famous for rainy skies than sunny days, but the city is hoping to install Britain's biggest array of solar panels on its tallest skyscraper.

Manchester may be more famous for rainy skies than sunny days, but the city is hoping to install Britain's biggest array of solar panels on its tallest skyscraper.

Plans have been submitted to clad a large part of the 28-storey Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) building in enough panels to power 75 houses. The project would transform the Mancunian landmark into a shimmering mirror of photovoltaic (PV) cells – which can produce power in any strength of sunlight – and provide power to the building's 4,000 occupants.

Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, is backing the plans, which could help Manchester to trump Birmingham in the provision of green energy. The biggest solar panel scheme so far is at the Alexandra Stadium indoor training centre in Birmingham.

If given approval by planners, the Manchester scheme will mark a victory for solar energy campaigners who say that photovoltaic panels are a realistic alternative to traditional cladding materials. Solar energy companies have devised roof tiles, bricks and even window laminates that can transform sunlight into power in an attempt to make solar energy more marketable to architects.

The CIS will apply for grants from the Department of Trade and Industry's renewable energy programme and from the North West Regional Development Agency.

Solar industry insiders report that interest in the technology among housing associations is running high, while take-up among office-block developers has been slower because they shy away from high initial investment costs. The CIS project is being seen as a trailblazer.

The London firm Heritage Architecture has submitted the application with the engineering company Arup and the solar power specialists Solar Century to transform the Grade II-listed structure, built in 1962 and originally covered in 14 million mosaic tiles.

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