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British high street targets energy-conscious consumers

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by Roland Jackson
London, Aug 6, 2006
Eco-friendly Britons seeking relief from soaring domestic energy bills can now pop down the high street and pick up solar panels for their homes.

Electrical goods group Currys became the first major retailer in Britain to sell the power panels after Britain experienced its hottest month on record in July.

Currys last week announced it would stock panels at three stores around south London as part of a test to capitalise on growing environmental awareness of climate change and concerns over energy efficiency.

The news was welcomed by the Energy Saving Trust, a British body funded by government and industry that promotes sustainable energy use and the cutting of carbon dioxide emissions to prevent climate change.

"We welcome any initiative that makes it easier for the householder to reduce their impact on the environment by being able to generate their own power through renewable energy sources such as solar panels," said Karen Lawrence, head of the trust's renewables department.

According to Currys, its solar panels, which retail at 1,000 pounds (1,473 euros 1,887 dollars) each, can cut household energy bills by up to 50 percent and reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by up to two tons.

"Our customers are becoming more environmentally aware all the time," Currys managing director Peter Keenan said.

"But this is far more than a 'green solution' for the home, it is also a perfect way of safeguarding against seemingly inevitable energy price rises."

Since the start of 2006, all major energy providers in Britain have imposed steep price hikes linked to soaring wholesale energy costs.

The cost of fitting an average three-bedroom house with enough solar panels to cover half its electrical requirements would be around 9,000 pounds, the company added.

At that price the sales outlook is far from sunny, however, since an average household could take between seven and 18 years to fully recoup the cost through lower energy bills.

Specialist suppliers in Britain currently charge up to 16,000 pounds to kit out a house with solar panels.

The move by Currys tallies with British government efforts to ease planning restrictions for the panels' installation.

They are to be manufactured by the Japanese electronics group Sharp at its plant in Wrexham, North Wales, and sold at Currys branches in Croydon, Fulham and West Thurrock.

In Germany and Japan, meanwhile, solar panel sales have shot up because households are allowed to sell excess electricity back to the national grid.

Last month, the British government set a target of 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, following a long-awaited review of the country's energy policy.

British energy providers blame domestic price spikes on the soaring cost of wholesale gas in Britain, which has jumped in line with record high crude oil prices.

They also claim to suffer from greater reliance on imports and the closed nature of European energy markets.

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Unaxis drives back into profit on solar panels and microchips
Zurich, Aug 4, 2006
The Swiss technology group Unaxis announced on Friday first-half profit of 117.9 million Swiss francs (78.6 million euros, 95.0 million dollars), maintaining a surge from loss a year ago with demand for solar panels and semiconductors.

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