Ninety per cent of Ambleside’s annual energy consumption could be powered with solar PV systems. That’s according to a study done by Alex Boyd who came into the CAfS office recently to present his findings to a wide-eyed audience of our staff.

Alex’s aim was to produce a workable methodology to create large-scale assessments of roof space for solar panels using publicly available data. The lakeside town was chosen as the guinea pig for this study as part of the Ambleside to Zero programme, but the method was designed to apply to any town on the map.

Using LiDAR (basically RADAR but with light) data from satellite images, Alex was able to identify all roofs big enough for solar panels.

He then eliminated various sites from consideration using a dizzying array of parameters. Any roof that was too small, too steep or too shaded was cast aside for only the most prime rooftop real estate.

After combining this information with Ambleside’s admittedly modest record of sunshine, he managed to calculate a total potential energy output of 3.5 GWh. That’s the equivalent of brewing 175 million cups of tea which, coincidentally, is also how Alex got through the process of calculating all this data.

While the findings from the study have exciting implications for the future of renewable energy sources in Cumbria, it also suggests that we as individuals needn’t simply wait for change to happen. Just over sixty per cent of the total output came from roofs that produced less than 3000 kwh (that is, residential homes). This suggests that individual homes do have the capacity to change our overall energy habits for the greener.

Alex has recently graduated from the University of Lancaster with a master’s degree in physics, astrophysics & cosmology, so it’s hardly surprising that the CAfS staff felt like they had just walked out of a NASA briefing when he wrapped up!

Alex’s work is one of the projects that CAfS is undertaking to support the Ambleside to Zero programme, a whole-place approach to cutting emissions in the town. The programme is being run by the community organisation Ambleside Action for a Future (AAFAF), supported by South Lakeland District Council. Have a look at the AAFAF website to find out about the programme overall. We’re excited to be playing a part in it – watch this space for more updates soon.