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Solar panels give power to council's tower block facelift

Architects for a Midlands council have given a tower block for social- housing tenants a solar-powered upgrade and glass facelift.

Sandwell council's Building Design Services overhauled the nine-storey Bowater House, designed in the 1960s by architects with the old West Bromwich borough council. The design included 36 solar panels with photovoltaic cells that convert ultra-violet light into power. Open balconies were glazed over and walls packed with more insulation. Artists have painted corridor walls to brighten up the existing concrete.

The project is on a 36-flat block on the 12ha Lyng Estate, which contains a total of seven high-rise blocks and 650 low-rise homes. It is the first phase of a £40 million initiative to regenerate the area and make accommodation more sustainable and socially cohesive, said Tim Southwell, project co- ordinator. The panels, by bp Solar, cost £300 each and clad one-third of the building to cut running costs such as mechanical ventilation, communal lights and heating.

'We are hoping to reduce the energy costs of the building for the council,' Southwell said. 'It will pay for itself in around 10 years and we expect another 30 years of use from the tower. That is a reasonable payback.'

The council is also working on the much-publicised Integer project to create 12 flats and three 'dream houses' with smart technology.

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