Business inspection: Catch some rays and cut energy costs

A desire to reduce its environmental impact lead this publisher down an unlikely path.


Vital statistics
Location Kirkwall, Orkney
Inspection host Mervyn Ward, general manager
Size 45 staff, turnover undisclosed
Established 1798 as a Bible binding company. It gradually developed into a commercial printing business and publisher of weekly newspaper The Orcadian
Products Weekly newspaper printing and publishing, commercial print and design, large-format printing, book publishing. The company also runs a bookshop
Kit Linonews/Web leader Quadstack newspaper machines, five-colour B2 Heidelberg CD 74, Xerox 7335 and Colour C75 digital presses, Roland VS-640, Epson Pro 7890 and 9800, HP Designjet 800, two GTO 52 single-colour presses, Suprasetter 105 plate machine, Polar 115XT guillotine, Horizon Stitchliner B3 bookletmaker and an array of other finishing kit
Key dates 1854 printed the first issue of The Orcadian weekly newspaper 2007 Merged with S&JD Robertson property developers and leasers 2012 Launched an online version of The Orcadian 2013 developed free apps for The Orcadian

Inspection focus

  • Installing solar panels to power the printing plant with renewable energy and cut electricity running costs

The challenge
Browse the weather forecast section of daily news website for the Orkney Islands, The Orcadian Online, and, even in August, the outlook isn’t great. "Patchy rain or drizzle. More general rain later" is a classic ‘Tonight’ forecast; "Rain clearing to showers later. Becoming windy", the radical change in meteorological fortunes pencilled in for the morrow.

The last venture anyone on this windswept Scottish archipelago would be expected to embark upon, is attempting to harness the sun’s rays. And yet this is exactly what Orkney Media Group, which publishes and prints the weekly local paper The Orcadian and publishes its online edition and which is also the only commercial, large-format and book printer in Orkney, decided to do early last year.

It was a visit from the Energy Saving Trust Scotland in 2012 that caused general manager Mervyn Ward to consider the group’s environmental impact. "We wanted to do our bit for the environment, and also cut our electricity costs," says Ward, explaining that the 150,000-plus kW of energy used to run the operation each year was becoming increasingly costly due to rocketing energy prices.

Ward and the company’s managing director Sinclair Robertson originally looked into wind turbines to take advantage of the North Sea’s weather fronts. But in the end, they decided solar energy would be the most straightforward option from a maintenance point of view.  "Solar panels have no moving parts, unlike wind turbines; once they’re in that’s it," he explains.

The location for the panels was something of a no-brainer: the company owned an area of boggy wetland near to its premises that it wanted to make use of.

But of course Scotland is hardly known for its strong sunshine. "The light is very seasonal. In summer we have about 18 hours of daylight but in winter it’s only five or six hours," says Ward. So for the project to work, the company was going to need lots of panels to catch as much light as possible. And so it decided to install an array of hundreds of panels.

The Energy Saving Trust, funded by the Scottish government, gave the company the go-ahead for its green plans together with a £100,000 grant soon after its initial visit in February 2012. Now Ward and co just had to wait for some nice weather to dry out the wetland.

The method
Ward and Robertson decided to research the market carefully before they made any plans. They not only looked into the solar panels’ make and model, but also researched suppliers, installers and customer reviews. "As we planned to install more than 200 panels, we needed something that was reliable, good value for money and that had been on the market for a while. We took a few months to research everything, just to make sure," says Ward.

In the end, they decided to install a 220-panel array that split into three inverters and opted for Kinve solar PV (photovoltaic) 240W panels. "We we found a lot of people using them without problems," explains Ward.

The combined strength of the panel array at peak production was limited to 50kW by the energy company’s regulations, as they were to be wired into the grid. The array was the first 50kW system in Orkney, and so installers had to be brought in to fit it.

The panels were picked and the suppliers chosen, but the project was still running a few months behind schedule. It turned out the admin side was going to take longer than anticipated. "There was a mountain of paperwork and forms to fill in," explains Ward.

By July 2012, the wetland was drying out and the company was ready to install its new panels. A
local builder had been drafted in to lay the concrete base, but as usual the British climate had other ideas. "Unfortunately, it did rain the week we decided to do it. We had workmen sinking into the field as it was so wet," says Ward.

The builders used diggers to dig tracks in the wetland and lay the concrete base for the solar array into the ground. The concrete pods are 8in thick and reinforced with steel.

Ward explains that the whole process took about two weeks, adding: "We had a bit of a hassle with the wetland, but we got there in the end. Once the concrete was in, it dried up and everything was spot on."

Next came the installers to put together the metal frames that hold the solar panels. These were then screwed into the concrete in 11 rows. To fit them, the installers had to drill into the concrete base and put expanding fluid in the holes before screwing the frames in. The fluid then filled any excess space to trap the screws and hold the frames down.

Ward says: "It was a painstaking job. It took about three weeks to do. But we needed it because it secures the installation to the ground, as we do get a lot of gales in Orkney."

It took another week to install the panels themselves, which slotted into the frames and were bolted on. The electrician spent a week wiring everything up to the three inverters so the energy can feed directly into the company’s mains supply.

It then took a further week to install a cable to link the system up to a computer in the office so the company can keep an eye on the solar panels’ performance. Ward and Robertson would know immediately if a panel was broken or underperforming, and would be able to exchange it. They even have apps on their phones so they can check up on their project remotely. "You just press it and it tells you what all the panels are doing and how much electricity they’re making," explains Ward.

"Overall, it was a pretty easy installation. We had no problems getting the panels shipped out to Orkney, and the whole thing was up-and-running by September 2012," he says.

Once everything was installed the company laid 90 tonnes of stone chips across the site to tidy it up and stop the weeds and grass growing. The final cost for the project came in at around £135,000.

The result
"We’re really pleased with the results. It has lowered our electricity bills, but that’s something we can evaluate fully in the new year after the winter period, to see what actual savings we have made," says Ward.

He adds: "It should benefit us in the future, especially with the kit we’re running. But electricity prices keep going up, and while we are getting cheaper electricity, it’s perhaps not the thousands of pounds you think you’re going to save."

The energy is very seasonal because from March to August there’s much more light. During those six months last year, the solar array produced 35,000kWh, and from September to February it produced 8,000kWh. The company is hoping it will continue to produce 43,000kWh per year.

In summer, Orkney Media Group uses 75% of what it produces and exports 25% to the electricity company. In winter it uses 90% and only exports 10%.

The project is extremely low maintenance once the initial installation is finished. The panels need cleaning once every four months, just with soap and water. "That’s really all we have to do, just to get the dust and bird poo off them!" says Ward.

The project is the first large-scale solar array in the area, so it has attracted a lot of attention. Ward says there have been a lot of customers asking about it. "They want to know how efficient they are, are we saving on the electricity costs and so on. It’s a good thing to speak to customers about; we get good feedback from them," he explains.

The company hopes the project will stabilise running costs over the next 8 to 10 years and ultimately pay for itself in 15 years. "It’s a long-term thing, we are just doing it for the future," says Ward.

He adds that the company is very pleased with the results. It hopes to add more solar panels in the future, but they would have to be off the grid as regulations have limited their number and power. "We would also still consider putting up a wind turbine, and we will hopefully install more solar panels," he says.

Orkney Media Group is currently investigating ways to get rid of its oil-fuelled water heating system and replace it with a renewable energy source. "We’re always looking at doing something. You have to have a sense of responsibility in the current climate," says Ward.



Following suit
Adopting renewable energy takes detailed planning to find the right products that will work for your business. "It is really important to do your research, both on the product and the supplier," says Ward.
Looking at what other people have and what is working for them is a good start. Ward adds that renewable energy is a big investment, so make sure you’re getting good value for your money. You also need to check the wattage regulations if you want to link up to the grid and export your excess energy, as Orkney Media Group was limited to 50kW.

Ward also says that they chose solar panels over wind turbines because they are low maintenance whereas moving parts are more complicated to maintain.

Potential pitfalls

Don’t underestimate the admin, warns Ward. "There are so many forms to fill in, the admin side is ridiculous," he says. All the paperwork involved put the group’s project a few months behind schedule. "We also had a technical issue with the energy performance certificate, which hadn’t been filled in properly. That did end up costing us money," he adds.

Top tips for success
Check planning permission before you start. If you’re putting solar panels on your roof you shouldn’t need to worry, but Orkney Media Group installed them offsite and had to apply for planning permission. Always check with your local planning authority, just in case.

Talk to your customers about the project, what you are doing and what effect it will have on your running costs. This will help them understand how the investment can benefit them too. You’re doing your bit for the environment, so be sure to tell them.

Set a budget as costs can quickly spiral out of control. Ward recommends adjusting the wattage of your panel array to your budget. "You might only need 20kW panels, which are cheaper," he says.

Ward’s top tip
"Do your research. Find a good supplier − one that’s trustworthy and established, because there’s a few rogue ones out there. And choose a product that’s reliable and good value for your money."

Recent Comments on PrintWeek

© MA Business Limited 2020. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .