Sustainability used to be low down on most businesess’s list of concerns, and few of them were willing to spend hard-earned cash on environmental initiatives, but more and more companies are finding that reducing their impact on the environment can also result in substantial cost savings too.

One of the simplest and most widespread examples of this is the massive move to LED lighting in the commercial sector. LED lighting does cost more than its conventional equivalent, but it is far more energy efficient, so over the long term, energy costs will be lower. But what makes it so attractive for forecourt owners is that it also lasts much longer, so there is much less time and expense involved in changing lights on forecourt canopies. By spending extra at the outset, longer-term savings can be made and this is a principle that is guiding a lot of investment in forecourts.

One forecourt company that has embraced this principle in a big way is Top 50 Indie The Kay Group. Richard Cox, Kay Group managing director, says: "First and foremost, The Kay Group takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. Although, like most businesses of our size, to justify this investment we have to have credible solutions with realistic ROIs (return on investment), therefore it’s a fine balance."

The company has been working with SolarCool Energy to introduce a package of energy-saving measures in existing sites, converting nine so far, and also including them in four new developments. Cox says: "Installing the SolarCool Energy pack ticks both boxes for us, future-proofing the business against the rising costs of electricity and the likely imminent introduction of potential government carbon taxation."

Two years ago, the company launched what it believed was the most energy-efficient fuel station and convenience store in the UK. The one-acre, 24-hour Texaco site based on Rossendale Road in Burnley, Lancashire, comprises a 2,500sq ft Spar convenience store with 23m of refrigeration, eight fuelling positions and a five-unit jet wash centre, and consumes less than 400kw units of electricity a day. This compares with an almost exact blueprint of this site built three years earlier by The Kay Group in Formby, Liverpool, which consumes just under 900kw units a day.

All the well-known, energy-reducing technologies such as LED lighting and voltage optimisation are present on the site, but solar energy also plays a big role in the savings. SolarCool is a US solar thermodynamics air conditioning and refrigeration system that uses free energy converted from the sun’s UV rays. In addition to the electrical saving technologies installed on site, rainwater harvesting for the jet wash centre, automatic temperature control (ATC) and stage two vapour recovery were all part of the overall environmental efficiency project.

However, the Rossendale Road site has been surpassed by Porthill, Kay Group’s site in Stoke-on-Trent, where average daily consumption is around 345kWh. The company says this is mainly due to newly developed technologies installed by SolarCool since the Rossendale Road installation. Most of the new technologies installed were based around the refrigeration/air conditioning and heating requirements within the sites, and this is where the largest efficiency gains have been achieved and the best ROIs.

"We have been working with SolarCool now for over two years, significantly reducing our energy consumption. The additional expenditure required for the efficiency technologies installed on the new sites is presently tracking at an ROI below eight months," says Cox.

Last month SolarCool launched a Green Technologies Funding Package. SolarCool Energy managing director, Mark Crabtree, says the programme allows businesses to benefit from mid- to long-term savings through generating green electricity, or saving energy by reducing heating, cooling and lighting costs, without having to pay upfront. The end user is cash positive from day one of installation, at no upfront cost to them.

Allan Potter, the owner of Potters Jet filling station at Framlingham in Suffolk, has had a very positive experience with solar power and this is encouraging him to aim for total self sufficiency for his forecourt, and an adjacent industrial development.

He says: "We’d been thinking about installing solar panels for some time, but as the forecourt canopy wasn’t large enough to take them, we put the idea on hold. Then, around 18 months ago, we began the first stage of development work on a 1.5 acre business park on land adjacent to the forecourt. We were supplying the business park’s electricity from the forecourt using a separate meter, but we decided that solar panels would be a much more cost and energy efficient solution. We installed 38 panels on a building to the rear of the forecourt. The panels generate 18kW of power.

"We worked closely with a local company who we were already familiar with, Hudsons Electrical. We had no capital outlay as we financed the panels separately the finance company was more than happy to finance the project because of the guaranteed return on the panels.

"It was definitely the right decision. It’s difficult to put an exact figure against the savings as we installed other measures at the same time (LED lighting in the canopy and shop for example), but our electricity bills are considerably lower than they used to be and we sell £3,000 of electricity back to the grid each year."

Allan is now already planning the next phase of the business park’s development, which will include the installation of a borehole to supply water to the forecourt and business park. He says the cost is comparable to bringing water into the site and with a water rate around £4,000 a year, a borehole makes sense from a commercial and environmental perspective. Further down the line, he is planning to develop a waste sewage treatment plant so his business will be virtually self-sufficient.

He adds: "From our perspective and at the time we did it, introducing the solar panels was a no brainer, but things can change quickly and the feed-in tariff changes every year. My advice for other dealers would be to speak to local suppliers for guidance on the best solutions. We were advised that it would be seven years before we saw a return on our investment, but with the average lifespan of the panels around 21 years, we know the panels are a great long-term investment."

Another forecourt that has enhanced its green credentials with the installation of solar panels to generate electricity and the introduction of LED lighting is in Somerset. Simon Lunn, owner and manager of The Simply Fresh forecourt and BP Garage at Weare in Somerset, explains: "We had some solar panels installed on the roof at home and I thought, we’ve got a bigger roof at work, why not there?" He had been interested in introducing environmental initiatives at the site and says he had looked into a wind turbine, but had been advised they didn’t get enough wind. Ironically, high winds during Storm Imogen ripped under- sheeting off the canopy a few weeks ago. Simon would also like to introduce rainwater harvesting but, as the site is only six feet above sea level, this is also a non-starter.

He says that while motorists top-up with fossil fuel, if the electricity for the business is topped up from the sun, it shows that even environmentally unfriendly products, such as petrol, can still benefit from a green treatment. The 32 PV (photovoltaic) panels took Devon-based Solar Synergy less than two days to install, meaning that disruption to the site was minimal. According to the system’s specification it will generate around 10KW of renewable electricity a year, saving the site over £2,000 on its bills and more than 5,111kg of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

Simon has not had a meter reading since the installation, but he says it appears to be generating about 90% of the site’s needs. His only regret is he has not been able to find a suitable display for the shop to show customers how much electricity and carbon dioxide the installation is saving. "Unfortunately the panels are on the roof, and at the back, so customers just don’t know they are there," he says.

Another enhancement that is far more noticeable for customers is the LED canopy lights fitted by ITAB UK. These reduce the site’s electricity consumption, but what has impressed Simon is how bright they are. "Our competitors nearby still have their canopies lit by conventional bulbs and our site now looks so much brighter than theirs," he says. Another benefit is that LED lighting should last much longer than conventional bulbs meaning far less maintenance. He says: "I’ve replaced conventional bulbs in the past and it is not an easy job, so any reduction in that will be welcome."

Case study: Jet Maybole

Brian Connolly, owner of the first dual-branded Jet/Spar site in the UK, at Maybole, South Ayrshire, already had solar panels installed in his home, so when he began planning a large-scale renovation of Jet Maybole in 2015, he saw an opportunity to install them at the site.
He explains: "The renovation work meant we would be quadrupling the size of our forecourt shop, resulting in significantly increased electricity charges. We installed the panels purely for commercial reasons: we knew they would help to counteract the substantial rise in electricity usage.
"I approached a local supplier who recommended the installation of 40 panels on the roof of the forecourt shop. Each panel generates 250 watts so the site now generates a total of 10kW.
"The installation went smoothly and there was no need to close the site while the panels were being put in place. We anticipate that we will soon be exporting power back to the grid.
"If dealers are considering whether solar panels would be right for their site, I’d say talk to the experts and consider where the site is located. If you have a south or westerly facing roof and your electricity costs are high, then it’s definitely worth considering.
"At the time we signed up, we spent around £15,000-£16,000 on the panels and secured a 25-year feed-in tariff payment. We expect to pay off the capital in just less than 10 years."