The innovative ‘zero energy’ Costa Coffee shop at the Wrekin Retail Park in Telford
A record number of companies are set to make the switch to solar power in 2015 according to a Solihull firm which helped create the country’s first ‘zero energy’ coffee shop.
Independent builders’ merchant EH Smith has supplied solar roof panels for the sustainable Costa Coffee outlet at the Wrekin Retail Park in Telford.
Costa has signalled its intent to roll out more solar-powered coffee shops in a bold move which Andy Oram from EH Smith Sustainable Products believes will be followed by others.
EH Smith supplied photovoltaic (PV) panelling for the roof of the building, which also contains a host of other eco-friendly technologies.
In all 100 270W all black panels, manufactured by Suntech, were supplied for the project.
The new coffee shop uses passive ventilation and innovative construction techniques, meaning the low amount of energy required to heat and cool the building can be provided via the solar panels.
EH Smith were introduced to Costa by Birmingham-based solar installer New World Home Energy, which was working on the Costa development, as well as a number of projects at the retail park.
Mr Oram said: “Costa are looking to do this for their new build projects in the UK – Telford is a pioneer project.
“Somewhere at the top Costa have had a moment where they decided this is the right thing to do for both business and environmental reasons.
“They have obviously got their Fairtrade coffee supply chain and now they are looking at lower impact buildings for their customers.”
Although the solar panels can provide many of the power needs of the Costa outlet it does need to remain connected to the energy grid as technology is still some way off being able to provide round the clock solar power for commercial use.
Mr Oram said: “They have also got a heat recovery system for recycling waste heat to further reduce running costs but it is difficult with solar panels on their own to get to 100 per cent usage.
“It doesn’t have any battery storage, so most of what they generate will be used in the course of their day and it still needs to be connected to the grid at night.
“But as the technology progresses we will get battery power so companies can be completely off the energy grid.
“Emerging technology will be battery-linked so the battery can store power to use whenever.
“There are residential battery storage systems available already but they’re at an early adopter stage and the technology is quite raw and high cost. Like all things as the technology progresses the cost will come down.”
With companies like Tesla developing new battery technology, which is due to come to the UK in 2016 for domestic use, Mr Oram said he believes it won’t be long until a commercial solution is also available.
He also believes more and more companies will follow Costa’s solar power lead, chiefly because it makes good business sense.
Since EH Smith got involved in sustainable construction he has seen a move towards sustainable technology that is as much about saving money as protecting the environment.
He said: “As a builders’ merchant we have been promoting energy efficiency in buildings for the last eight years.
“In the world of construction we have blazed a bit of a trail in challenging people’s mindsets and changing the way buildings are put together – making them more efficient.
“The construction industry is probably known for doing what it knows, rather than looking for new products and practices but that is beginning to change, as much through government rules as any thing else.
“Maybe we started off on the wrong foot, we were getting people to be more worried about the environment but the more conversations you have with people the more you realise they are concerned about the bottom line.
“Building energy efficient buildings will reduce running costs, meaning you have got more money to invest in the business.
“We see this year as a year businesses will latch on to solar, particularly due to drivers coming from central government towards carbon reduction.
“Businesses are under pressure to reduce their carbon output or face penalties. That has really focused the business world into recognising this is something they need to take more seriously.”
He added: “My message to businesses would be to absolutely embrace the technology that is there now, make the most of government subsidies to offset the cost of installation and use private finance funding that is available to reduce running costs.
“The benefits are free energy, independence from energy companies, lower running costs and a lower impact on the environment.
“Years ago it was very much a niche area for people who want to do things for environmental reasons, now it is much more mainstream.”
Jim Slater, managing director of Costa UK and Ireland, said: “This is an exciting first for coffee shop and retail design here in the UK and has the potential to transform not just how we build new stores at Costa but the industry far more widely.”