Solar fire fighting

Richmond firefighters are making history by staffing the UK's first solar-powered fire station - and it could be the first of many. Varya Shaw reports

One of the few visible changes at Richmond Fire Station is a counter in the lobby which tracks how much electricity has been generated and how much carbon dioxide emissions have been cut.

If you look up at the skylight, in the bay where the fire engines are kept, you see small black squares – solar panels split into their component cells so light can still shine in.

The station’s new roof, which came into operation in October last year, is covered by around 80m3 of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The panels are expected to generate about two thirds of the station’s electricity.

The rest will come from renewable energy supplier, Good Energy. The system is grid-connected so the station will buy from, or sell electricity to, Good Energy – depending on whether it is generating too little or too much. And its electricity will be 100% green.

Carbon Dioxide emissions will be cut by 4.8 tonnes annually – a small amount compared with the London Fire Brigade’s total emissions, but Richmond Fire Station is just the beginning of a ‘greening of the brigade’.

The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority has agreed a fund for investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This includes a capital spending fund of £3.92 million for the next two financial years. It is also applying for multi-million pound funding from the London Climate Change Agency for investment in green power generation and energy efficiency at fire stations and looking at the opportunities for further grants from the Government and Europe.

Authority Chair, Val Shawcross says: “We already have an energy strategy delivering 2% a year cuts in consumption through design and good housekeeping. We’re committed to meeting, and hopefully exceeding, the mayor’s environmental objectives for London.”

London Fire Brigade is keen to see more – possibly ten – solar-powered fire stations modelled on Richmond. It is also investigating wind turbines, solar thermal systems and combined heat and power systems. Planning permission is being sought for a wind turbine at Hayes Fire Station. The station is distant from residential areas, and therefore unlikely to attract objections. Shawcross adds: “This turbine is the first of many, and is expected to generate 1.5kW/h (or a kettle and a half of boiling water) and will cut carbon emissions by 1.6 tonnes a year.”

Planning permission is also being sought for a solar thermal system at Tooting Fire Station, which could save 10 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, and a combined heat and power (CHP) system at East Ham Fire Station.

The Carbon Trust is a long-term partner and is now conducting a feasibility study for a larger-scale CHP project at London Fire Brigade’s training centre in Southwark. The brigade is set to employ a specialist consultant for its renewable energy programme and is planning more wind turbines and solar thermal systems in fire stations over the next few years.

This is all in addition to many other environmental measures being taken by the brigade. It is tackling pollution by making fire engines compliant with European regulations.

Treasury funding is being sought for an inter-agency awareness campaign run with the Metropolitan Police and the London Ambulance Service. This would be a classic switch-off-lights-and-turn-down-your-heating style campaign, but tailored for the emergency services. And the brigade has just been named most innovative recycling organisation in London.

The best public services in Europe have increasingly mainstreamed environmental considerations, and the London Fire Brigade is determined to make the same change.

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