The 50kw system has been unveiled at Bodnant Garden in the Conwy Valley. It will generate 43,000kWh of electricity each year; powering the on-site Pavilion Café along with two electric vehicle charging points in the neighbouring overflow car park, and recharging the batteries of power tools such as leaf blowers.

The solar panels have been manufactured by Panasonic as part of an ongoing agreement with the National Trust to help the organisation in its aim to reduce energy consumption by 20% and halve fossil fuel use by 2020.

Unique spirit

The Trust – the UK’s largest private landowner – has unveiled a host of onsite solutions at many of Britain’s most treasured historic buildings over the past year, including biomass boilers at Upton House in Warwickshire and hydro-electric schemes at Quarry Bank in Cheshire and Hayeswater in Cumbria.

“Every National Trust property has its own unique spirit, and we’ve got to make sure that whatever we install is appropriate in the right place,” said the Trust’s environmental advisor Paul Southall. “Bodnant Garden has had 212,000 visitors this year and when the sun is shining our visitors are here so this system makes a perfect match. “

Southall explained that in its first morning of operation, the new solar system translated into a cost saving of £35-£40. “It allows us to put the money we save into conservation which is our core purpose,” he added.

With the panels installed on rocky hillside terrain, Gareth Jones from solar specialist Carbon Zero, which carried out the work, explained the technologically challenges posed by the project. “It’s a unique system because we’ve incorporated the panels on a curve into the hillside and it’s now sending power back down to the café via a 350-metre long 95mm cable,” said Jones.

But the resulting system has been welcomed by Bodnant Garden’s general manager William Greenwood, who believes it is a prime example of trying new and different ways of operating and maintaining gardens and historic sites more sustainably.

‘Modern art’

Greenwood said: “I was slightly worried that it was going to look like an industrial, unsightly blot on the landscape, but it’s fantastic – it blends in beautifully. It looks as though it’s always been there and always should have been there.

“Some people have even commented to me that it does look like a piece of modern art because of the way it serpents round the hillside in sinuous line and follows the curves. This is about the art of the possible. If we can do it here, people can do it anywhere.”

Last year, the National Trust partnered with environmental think tank Green Alliance to explore new models for profitable land management that help to protect and enhance natural systems. After an initial scoping phase, the plan is to develop a wider collaboration with other organisations committed to developing a new economics of land management that benefits both nature and people.

Luke Nicholls

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