Twenty-five universities and institutes in Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are to build solar power installations over the next three years as part of a European Union project to boost clean energy production.
The EU will provide €5.9 million (£3.6 million), 42 per cent of the cost of the UnivERsol project.
One of the largest installations will be at Barcelona University. By 2005, photovoltaic panels in the roof of the physics and chemistry building will produce enough electricity to meet the energy needs of about 30 houses.
"The difficult part of producing clean energy is not the technical side, but convincing people it can be done," said Antoni Lloret, director of Euroregional Group of Photovoltaic Systems at Barcelona's Science Park and coordinator of the UnivERsol project.
"The main aim is to make students and staff aware of the possibilities of solar energy," said Hans Bleijs, electrical engineering lecturer at Leicester University. "We train the future decision-makers, so if they are exposed to the fact that you can do solar power in buildings, this will influence their decisions in future life."
The installation at East Anglia University will form part of a new environmental centre. "This will be a major showcase for sustainable solutions for the environment," said Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Professor Lloret is convinced it is only a matter of time before solar systems catch on. He pointed out that accessible deposits of fossil fuels would run out within 20 to 25 years. "The only forms of energy that are properly resolved are the renewables - solar, wind and biomass," he said.
He expressed dismay that the EU's Framework 6 Programme was channelling funds into nuclear fusion rather than renewable energy.