In practice: London’s largest solar retrofit project

Waste management firm Bywaters has dramatically reduced its energy usage and achieved near self-sufficiency following the delivery of a 1MW solar retrofit project at its plant in East London.

The solution

Bywaters’s state-of-the-art material recovery facility in Bow is capable of processing up to 125,000 tonnes of waste from across London a year each year, recovering over 95% of collected materials including plastics and paper. Feasibility studies undertaken by Bywaters convinced the firm of the validity of turning a passive asset – the roof of the recovery facility – into a profitable resource.

The 4,000 solar panels, which represent London’s largest solar PV retrofit, were installed with an aim to reduce Bywater’s energy reliance on the grid and to help reduce the capital’s rising levels of air pollution – considered by many to be one of the biggest health threats facing Londoners today. Bywaters has subsequently set a benchmark for how businesses can carry out core processes in an urban environment without causing damage to the environment through harmful emissions.

The solar project was commissioned by Bywaters towards the end of 2015, rendering it eligible to receive higher rates of UK Government subsides before the impending Feed-in-Tarrif (FiT) deadline. Low-carbon energy developer M3 Solutions began construction in November 2015 and completed the installation in time for first units of electricity production to be generated the following February. The system works by generating power straight into the grid before being fed back into the building.

Business benefits

The solar project is proving to be a worthwhile exercise for ISO14001-accredited firm Bywaters, and provides a good example of what can be achieved in an urban environment.

The total cost of installation came to just over £1m, with the 700MWh solar panel array expected to deliver a healthy Return on Investment (RoI) of 6.67 years. Bywaters has reduced its carbon emissions by around 45% and saved more than 640 tonnes of CO2 since February 2016 – the equivalent of planting 16400 trees or powering 474 homes a year.

As well as reduced energy costs, the solar panels are enabling Bywaters to operate more sustainably. The array generates 33.7% of the total power required to process waste at the materials recovery factory. The facility exports around 470,000MWh of electricity to the grid – enough to power the equivalent of 100,000 homes.

The solar installation has been complemented by an energy efficiency upgrade in the main building. In 2015, Bywaters replaced 300 inefficient gas lights with 192 LED lights with a wider angle per light fitting, as well as other LED lights fitted on the site. This has reduced the electricity required by 66%, helping to the company to become nearly self-sufficient, while improving the quality of the lighting in the building and on the site.

The future

The retrofit forms part of the firm’s ambition to reduce the environmental impact of its own operations and its customers. The company last year commenced a five-year waste collection and recycling contract with the Parliamentary Estate, with the goal to boost recycling rates and further its sustainability efforts.

Bywaters is also piloting a solution designed to overcome the difficulties of recycling paper coffee cups on UCL’s campus in London. Meanwhile, the firm recently invested in a new mobile app that allows property and facilities managers to measure the effectiveness of their existing waste management system.

George Ogleby

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