Here comes the sun – Landsec goes solar at White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds
According to the company, the installation, situated on the roof of White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds, will generate 680,000kWh of power a year - enough electricity to power more than 200 UK homes for 12 months.
In its first year, the system will reduce carbon emissions at White Rose by 250 tonnes, the equivalent of more than half a million miles of passenger car emissions. It consists of 2,902 individual panels, each of which measures 1.6 sq m.
Landsec hopes the PV system will maximise onsite renewable energy generation, reduce electricity consumption from the grid and deliver significant financial benefits to retailers based at White Rose. It forms a key part of the ongoing sustainability strategy at the centre, which includes a biodiversity programme alongside energy efficiency measures and a focus on reducing food waste.
The PV system was installed over a period of six weeks by EvoEnergy and Syzygy Renewables acted as project manager for Landsec.
Property Week caught up with Tom Byrne, Landsec’s energy manager, to find out more.
What was the starting point for the project?
We’ve been reviewing our portfolio for a number of years, so it wasn’t just specific to this centre. The research was a long process - we started it in 2015. We looked at PV across the entire retail portfolio to start with, carrying out a desk-based analysis to understand which centre showed the most potential.
White Rose came up as the one, based on the amount of roof space it had, its geographical area - there’s no shading because it’s an out-of-town centre - and the aspect of the roofs as well. It was then taken through to advanced feasibility in terms of the viability of the PV project.
At the same time, White Rose is a very successful centre. It is 20 years since it opened and this year it had an extension including a cinema and new restaurants, so we’re obviously trying to maximise the asset as much as possible, to invest in it and refurbish it. This came at a very good time in terms of building on those works and adding a sustainable investment to the shopping centre.
How long will the investment take to pay for itself in reduced electricity bills?
We’ve modelled how long it will take to pay for itself based on what we know today in terms of the centre’s usage and current electricity costs. We believe it will have an indicative payback of eight to nine years. It’s difficult to know for sure given future fluctuations we may see with electricity costs. It might be even shorter depending on what happens with the market.
I think that there is a perception that solar PV technology is very uneconomical and has long paybacks, but if you have the right scale of system it can pay back in a much shorter timeframe.
That timeframe shouldn't be too intimidating for a landlord as big as Landsec. should it?
I think we’re getting to a stage where we can view sustainability projects as having similar investment payback periods as other investments we have across the portfolio. We don’t only invest in our current stock of buildings; we’re looking to make investments in our new projects as well, so potentially making more sustainable choices as we design and build new buildings that will provide a different scale of payback than a retrofit project such as White Rose.
How is the relatively short payback period achieved?
It’s partly down to the technology becoming more mature. As technologies develop and become more mature and their supply chains also evolve, then it reduces costs in terms of the product itself, which certainly helps.
We’re also seeing energy costs increase year on year. The base cost of energy nowadays is fairly flat or it’s dropping, but there are so many other things that make up your electricity bill in terms of transportation and distribution and other non-energy costs. Those seem to be going up regularly and that also helps us in terms of payback.
Have technological improvements helped?
The technology has also got better. And as it develops, not only does it become cheaper to manufacture, it also becomes more efficient.
So, for example, our first solar PV project down at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, which was carried out in 2013 and was the flagship project on a retail centre for a long time, consistently outperformed our expectations in terms of what we were expecting to be produced and what it actually delivered.
So even four years ago the technology was outperforming what we had modelled and hopefully Leeds will do the same.
How will you monitor performance?
We have a full monitoring system on the PV system. We have to model how much it produces, how much we’re using in the centre and then potentially how much we’re selling back to the national grid. It’s not going to be possible at all times to use what we’re producing, so we will have the opportunity to sell some of it back.
We’re also tracking the amount of solar radiation we’re getting - essentially the amount of sunshine we’re getting on those panels - so we can track whether we’re producing as much as we thought in relation to the amount of sunshine we’re getting. There is lots of modelling and tracking going on and we’ll make sure we carry on with that as much as possible moving forward to make the system as economical as possible.
How will the system benefit tenants?
In terms of how the system works, it only feeds the landlord services at the centre. So we’re talking about mall area lighting, external lighting, mall cooling and any other air treatment processes. The solar will directly benefit that. As a landlord we want to be maximising the PV system and potentially reducing our usage so that we’re not using more than we need to.
At the same time, we’re working with our retailers at the centre to help them reduce their energy as well, but their energy will come directly from their suppliers. They won’t be directly benefiting from the solar, but their service charge will be reduced. What they’re paying with regard to lighting and cooling the malls as part of their service charge will be cut and we think that could be by about 20% over the course of the year, which will be a pretty substantial saving for them.
How does the Leeds project tally with Landsec's wider sustainability strategy?
I think it builds upon what we’ve been doing in the past few years nicely. One of our key themes is the efficient use of natural resources. Underlying that theme is our carbon target, which is to achieve 80% reduction in carbon intensity by 2050 and also to reduce energy intensity by 40% by 2030. Those are our leading targets and in order to deliver them we have done a number of things, such as investing in our portfolio in terms of energy efficiency. That was the main thing to start with.
A couple of years ago, we started really harnessing our current technologies, improving our energy efficiency and then investing in things like LED lighting. Now we’re moving to a stage where we want to build upon that really good work by investing in things like solar. It’s a natural transition for us.