BSkyB: Switching on to sustainable broadcasting

Commuters stuck in traffic along the A4 in west London have had a new landmark to look out for in recent months. A 55-metre wind turbine now fills the skyline as a symbol of BSkyB's efforts to make more use of renewable energy at its new state-of-the-art sustainable broadcast centre. Sustainable Business finds out more.

The Northwind 100 turbine will provide more than 133MWh a year of clean energy to Sky Studios. And with internal targets to have 20% of its energy requirements met by onsite renewable by 2020, its more than just a visual icing on the cake. In fact, it will generate enough energy to power the office lighting requirements all year round.

Getting it installed has been no easy feat. Four years of negotiating with NATS, the air traffic management organisation, has taken its toll. But it has all been worth it, says Fiona Ball, the company’s head of environment.

“It’s beautiful and it’s a real visible statement. Our internal newsletter email, Today at Sky, got 6,000 hits when we talked about the wind turbine, which is really impressive.”

While the sleek bespoke design of the turbine appeals to Sky’s staff across the Osterley site, a much more important technology lies in a nondescript, window-less shell behind Sky Studios. Inside, a recently-commissioned combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) plant – the first large-scale facility of its type in the UK – is providing a considerable amount of electricity for the energy-hungry building next door which houses eight studios, including five HD studios, 45 edit suites, 14 voice-over suites and four audio suites.

The big, yet compact CCHP unit may not be sexy, but it’s incredibly important. Together with the turbine, it is supplying around 40% of Sky Studios’ energy needs, generating more than 4 megawatts of heat energy, which converts to nearly a megawatt of electricity, two megawatts of chilled water (to cool the studios) and two megawatts of heat available for hot water heating (including taps, heating and showers).

“Our carbon and energy management working group looks at investments on a yearly basis. When it comes to investing in renewables, we look at investment return rather than payback, simply because payback for renewable energy isn’t great.

“But the investment return for our CCHP is about 11%. It will last 20 years and with energy prices going up, it will get even better.”

The CCHP unit will also be crucial if the company takes forward its plans to create a district heating system – the share the heat it generates in production with neighbouring businesses.

“We use the electricity but we don’t need the heat, so if they want it, then great,” says Fiona.

The purely digital and tapeless Sky Studios is the most sustainable broadcasting facility in Europe. Naturally ventilated throughout and arranged over five levels – each the size of a football pitch – the building has been designed so that original content can be filmed, edited and transmitted within a single facility.

The building is divided horizontally into three zones – ‘make’, ‘shape’ and ‘share’ – housing content production, platform control and transmission services for all of Sky’s sport and news content. It was a serious investment for the company (costing around £233M), but it today provides a great platform for its all-encompassing sustainability programme, known as The Bigger Picture.

Inside the BREEAM ‘Excellent’ building, the regenerative lifts – which store the energy created going down to bring them back up again – take you through each floor. The natural ventilation saves about 7.5% of the energy used – not bad for a building that has hot studios and even hotter data centres.

Yes, there is energy efficient lighting, but the building’s design makes the best use of natural light. And thermal film on the windows deters too much sun coming in.

“In the old studio, you had a nice cool environment, but it cost a lot more. The whole focus with this was to make it the most sustainable broadcast facility – making it difficult for our designers because the energy load is quite significant.”

And the building itself is being used as the ultimate staff engagement vehicle. Green logo stickers can be seen everywhere. There are five in total, representing renewable energy, regenerative lifts, rainwater harvesting (a system that flushes all the toilets in the building), efficient lighting and natural ventilation – and reminding staff just how great it is to work here.

“Part of the design is about engaging our employees,” says Fiona. “They get it and they are proud to be in this building.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Fiona and her team. But rather than see the opening of the green Sky Studios – and its accompanying wind turbine and CCHP plant – as a conclusion to its efforts, this is very much the start of BSkyB’s journey.

“When I joined six years ago, Sky was just a TV company,” she adds.

“Now we offer broadband, telephone, 3D and HD. And we have much more dynamic products – not just set-top boxes. It’s an amazing company, and in sizeable organisations like this, you are always going to find something to get more efficient about.”

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