Call centre to eclipse energy costs with solar power

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The UK may be in line for a dramatic solar eclipse but one Nottingham company is leading the way in renewable energy by becoming what it believes is the first solar-powered contact centre.

Answer-4u Managing Director Mark Menhennet on the roof surrounded by 94 PV panels

The UK may be in line for a dramatic solar eclipse today but one Nottingham company is leading the way in renewable energy by becoming what it believes is the first solar-powered contact centre.

Answer-4u, which provides 24/7, 365 days of the year telephone answering services and employs nearly 200 staff, has embraced the green agenda and uncovered a new revenue stream by installing a 30 kilowatt array of photovoltaic (PV) panels and other renewable energy measures at it’s 9,600 sq ft offices in Nottingham.

The green steps taken by the business mean the measures will provide 80 per cent of the company's energy requirements in the summer and 40 per cent even in the winter.

Mark Menhennet, managing director at Answer-4u came up with the idea when he was initially battling an energy problem at his own home.

Mark said, "I had become frustrated with the extortionate energy costs of running my own home, which was consuming huge amounts of money as it was heated with oil. After a lot of research I got to grips with renewable energy alternatives, notably air source heat pumps. The savings have been fantastic, and I realised that with some careful planning, I could transfer the same principles to my business."

Mark realised that the huge savings he was making at home could also be made at Answer-4u, with the cash the business is saving being ploughed back into the firm as investment. However, Mark councils that this isn’t just a simple case of fixing a few solar panels to a roof. Answer-4u's approach to renewable energy had to be totally holistic.

The company has embraced the green agenda by: installing automated lights in all of the common areas; removing its old and inefficient gas heating system and replacing it with air source heat pumps which are more efficient and controllable and do not produce any waste gases; replacing the entire roof and covering and insulating it with 120mm Celotex sheets to reduce heat losses in line with current building regulations; and finally, replacing all 80 of their old single glazed windows with new double glazed units, thereby reducing the heating load.

In addition to this, Answer-4u's toilet blocks have had their old inefficient extractor fans replaced with heat exchange units that refresh the air three times per hour and recover the heat before extraction. All fluorescent lighting has been replaced with LED units reducing electricity usage on lighting alone by 60 per cent.

It doesn't stop there. Mark adds: "We are a telecom and computer driven business, so to reduce the overall load we have recycled 90 per cent of our workstations (85 in total) replacing them with Thin Client units, thus reducing the power consumption per workstation by approximately 80 watts. In total, this is a saving of circa 6.8 kilowatts per hour - 24 hours a day."

The new PV panels took just one week to install, and mean Answer-4u will be able to raise vital cash, as the company is selling energy back to grid, bringing in around £170,000 over 21 years. This will then be reinvested back into the business.

Mark concludes:

"These reductions and tweaks, when brought together, mean we can power our entire office during daylight hours. The savings we'll make on our energy use will also mean that we can spend money on growing our business. I'd urge other businesses to follow suit so they can unlock a vital funding stream and do their bit for the planet at the same time. It is a win-win"

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Greg Simpson

Greg Simpson
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