This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Dulas being established as a renewable energy co-operative by a group of engineers based at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid Wales.
1982 – Dulas starts out as a commercial subsidiary of the Centre for Alternative Energy
Clearly the renewable energy world has developed hugely since 1982, but it is useful to remember that ‘climate change’ had not even entered the public consciousness when Dulas started out. It was the oil price crisis resulting from war in the Middle East that spawned commercial interest in renewable energy and in part led to the creation of the Centre of Alternative Technology in 1973. However, the wind and solar energy industries remained relatively small scale for several years, with little significant investment. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that climate change and global warming started to come to the attention of the mainstream media, although many sections were for a long time sceptical of the science.
Against this backdrop the early Dulas engineers were ahead of their time, and motivated not by commercial interests but by a desire to harness the power of clean energy and to spread its benefits across the globe.
Ever since, Dulas has been at the forefront of using renewable energy to reduce our reliance on finite fossil fuels and bring clean energy across the globe. We are recognised as industry leaders in solar, wind and hydro systems, responsible for many ‘firsts’, including the development of solar powered vaccine refrigerators that have improved the life chances of thousands of people in developing countries around the world.
The pioneering spirit remains alive and well in Dulas today and we are proud to remain a worker-owned company. Our people are mainly based at our headquarters in Machynlleth, with additional offices in Inverness and Stirling, and a factory in Bognor Regis.
Of course, renewable energy is now established on a more industrial scale, with ever improving technology and greater political backing, both here in the UK and globally. After a period of being supported by state subsidies, the renewables industry of today has long since proved its commercial viability and now commands a rapidly growing share of the energy market, providing cheaper electricity than from any other source.
In this rapidly growing market, Dulas remains at the forefront of developments, providing a wide range of equipment and consultancy services. For example, our expert planners and EIA specialists are directly responsible for obtaining consent for a wide variety of renewable energy projects across the UK and Ireland, in particular some 550MW of dedicated wind energy projects along with more than 420MW of solar PV. Meanwhile, our teams of engineers maintain and optimise a vast range of renewable energy systems, directly contributing to the reduction of fossil fuel use in the UK.
We are also very proud of the difference our solar direct drive (SDD) powered vaccine refrigerators have made and continue to make internationally. Our factory in West Sussex designs and manufactures them entirely within the UK, and we export and install thousands of SDD refrigerators across the world every year. They ensure that vaccines are stored at the precise temperature required to remain viable and are used within both routine immunization programmes and specific humanitarian aid projects. Being solar powered, they can operate in remote areas with little or no grid connection, and make an enormous a difference to the lives of people living in those areas.
According to UNICEF, more than 1.5 million people die annually from diseases that can be prevented by vaccination, many of them children. It’s our aim at Dulas to help to bring that number down, year on year. Over 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated since the year 2000, but there is still a lot of work to do. By combining our knowledge, experience and passion, we will continue to help save lives around the world.
Forty years after our inception, we believe that the renewable energy industry is at a crucial turning point. We intend playing our part in the technological advances that will see renewable energy becoming the default choice and consign fossil fuels to the history books. The next few years promise to be very interesting as new technologies are harnessed and made commercially available.
Energy storage is one of the main challenges to overcome – critics of wind and solar energy are quick to point out that it is not always windy or sunny. The development of lithium-ion battery systems will provide one solution, but we also expect green hydrogen, or derived synthetic fuels, to receive more attention as possible energy carriers moving forwards. It is difficult to imagine that energy storage in batteries alone could address the challenges of seasonal energy storage requirements that a true net-zero system implies.
Offshore wind is likely to continue its strong growth in the short term, but we would like to see more development in the onshore wind market. This is particularly true within England where overall planning policy has been unfavourable for several years now, and it was disappointing that the Government’s recently published energy strategy did not offer its support for onshore wind. Despite these barriers, we know that developers are pursuing potential sites for planning applications and we consider that to be an optimistic sign that changes will come. We would also support new investment and policy support for new hydro schemes within the UK, but at present there are few incentives for new schemes to be built.
A continuing commitment to innovation
In terms of new products and services, we are currently testing our prototype electric vehicle charger for the off grid/weak grid market at our Welsh headquarters. The charger combines solar energy and battery storage to provide charging capacity for areas with grid constraints. We believe this could be developed further and commercialised to help businesses with large energy needs – for instance in the agricultural sector.
We are also undertaking research into the feasibility of hydrogen production from renewable energy sources in Wales. This research has been funded by the Welsh Government HyBRID programme with the aim of defining affordable, sustainable systems that will work with renewable energy locally and at scale.
We need renewable energy now more than ever
The current energy crisis and global situation has served to highlight our over-reliance on imported fossil fuels, and the importance of having a clean and secure local energy supply. It’s vital that incentivising renewable energy and investing in infrastructure and new technologies continues, so that we can become less susceptible to volatile global energy markets. Ultimately, the solution to this problem is having a clean, secure energy supply using the vast natural resources we have on our doorstep.
So here’s to the next 40 years. We’ll continue to offer our clients pioneering, effective renewable solutions that will help combat climate change, help those most in need and support local energy security.