Achieving energy independence through solar PV and battery storage

By Jordan Mawbey
With the manufacturing sector being one of industry’s biggest electricity consumers, it is no surprise that many manufacturers have already turned...

With the manufacturing sector being one of industry’s biggest electricity consumers, it is no surprise that many manufacturers have already turned to solar to deliver significant financial and carbon savings, whilst also providing a level of self-sufficiency from energy supplied by the National Grid.

Typically running costly energy intensive machinery on a daily basis makes manufacturers a perfect candidate for solar and equally, those with large premises often have the ideal roof space to install solar PV that essentially turns your site into a mini ‘power station’.

There was a misconception surrounding last year’s cuts to the feed-in tariff that solar was no longer financially viable, however, for high energy users, the commercial sector is still well positioned to enjoy financial returns of around 11-14% or higher and 6-10 years pay backs; with expensive power generators due to come online in the future (i.e. Hinckley Point C), the argument for solar will only get stronger as energy prices continue to climb.

The Government are currently struggling to provide a convincing energy strategy for the UK and there’s been no better time for manufacturers to take control of their own energy future and become less reliant on the energy provided by the National Grid. However, whether your company already has a PV installation or if you’re yet to make the investment, manufacturers should be looking at the wider opportunity for energy technology deployment onsite to maximise the potential for longer term energy independence.

In addition to rooftop solar PV, the grounds of manufacturing sites also offer scope for solar carports, turning an otherwise regular car park into a means to generate even more electricity onsite whilst protecting vehicles and personnel from the elements. Solar carports also give the opportunity to install EV charging points, in part utilising the solar to charge electric vehicles within the company fleet.

Battery storage has been one of the most anticipated innovations in the energy market and its commercial viability has now given manufacturers new opportunity for managing power onsite. With the means to keep your business in supply of electricity during black-out periods, battery storage can also be used for load shifting; buying and storing energy from the Grid when it is cheap for consumption during more expensive periods. The battery can also increase revenues by storing surplus energy from a PV system that would otherwise be exported at a modest income of 4p per unit. The National Grid is currently undergoing a period of significant change and this gives further opportunity to battery storage owners to provide ‘grid services’ at a premium price such as frequency balancing to quickly supply electricity to, or absorb excess electricity from, the Grid at critical times.

As a complete solution, the above technologies can work in synchronous to turn ‘energy’ from a cost that needs to be managed in to an asset that can deliver competitive advantage on many levels. Beyond saving money on energy unit costs and Triad charges, together with the income from the remaining feed-in tariff, the demands for greener business are also achieved through reduced carbon emissions, allowing manufacturers to take a significant step closer to achieving CSR targets whilst creating new supplychain opportunities with green conscious suppliers and customers.

Perhaps just as lucrative, is the opportunity to become less dependant on the unreliable National Grid, particularly, as mentioned earlier, during a time of significant change where the Government are also unable to offer a compelling strategy for the UK’s future energy supply.

Is free solar still possible for manufacturers?

Free solar is still possible for manufacturers via a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) where a system – installed on your roof space – is fully funded, owned and maintained by a third party specialist investor. Electricity generated by the PV is then sold back to the manufacturer at a pre-determined unit price, cheaper than your existing supplier and linked to inflation better than the current energy market. This means that you can leverage financial and environmental benefits from day one and up to 30 years at zero cost to the company.

Generally, for investors to consider a business suitable for a PPA, there must be a large roof area available that is relatively free from shading. Ideally the building will have a half-hourly electricity meter installed in addition to an Energy Performance Certificate. If you don’t own the building, investors will require that a long term rental agreement is in place, or perhaps even arrange a PPA direct with the landlord.

BMW installed a 3 MWp rooftop system via a PPA in 2014 to power the energy intensive robotic production line at their Mini production plant in Oxfordshire. The array has since saved the manufacturing giant tens of thousands of pounds on energy costs, whilst also providing a meaningful contribution to their carbon reduction targets.

Will the installation process cause disruption to the business?

Depending on the size and complexity of the solar array to be installed, an installation can take from 14 days (for smaller systems) up to several weeks (for multi-megawatt systems). This naturally raises concern for the impact on the business although a good installer will be able to come up with solutions to eliminate or minimise any day-to-day disruptions throughout the installation process.

For example, EvoEnergy have for many of their clients removed the need for scaffolding onsite by creating a single temporary access point to the rooftop whilst also employing additional health and safety practices for installers to work and move safely at height including demarcation and rope access.

If solar carports, battery storage and EV charging units are to be installed, some ground work will be necessary however this can often be planned around the convenience of the business.

Advice for existing solar PV installations

Many manufacturers have already made the investment in solar and whilst PV panels are a proven and reliable technology, failing to implement a regular operation and maintenance (O&M) plan can be detrimental to the system’s immediate and long term performance. Simple technical faults at panel and inverter level are significant enough to make damaging losses to your financial and carbon savings and can often go undetected for long periods.

If you’ve bought your system outright then check if you’ve got a workmanship guarantee (many commercial solar installers will provide at least one year). After that you’ve generally got a couple of options; the first being a (non contract) one-off maintenance visit where qualified electrical technicians will perform a visual initial inspection of your system and re-test electrical components and consumables. Other options include entering a contract whereby the solar company will monitor everything for you, and notify you of any issues. Whatever you choose, the minimum recommendation is that a full maintenance check is carried out on an annual basis, to ensure that your business is benefitting from maximum efficiency.

Over the years, EvoEnergy have witnessed a number of poor solar PV installations completed by other installers and therefore if your solar PV installer is no longer in business, it’s also recommended that you approach a trusted installer to assess your installation for efficiency and safety reasons.

If installing ‘free solar’ via a PPA, the responsibility for maintaining the system will fall with the investor and is included within the agreement.

By Jordan Mawbey, Marketing Manager at EvoEnergy


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