Exeter business helps Bigham’s boost green credentials with 300kWp solar system

Charlie Bigham’s requires electricity 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to produce wonderful food for the likes of Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

So, when the fine-food manufacturer got the opportunity to make its operations even more sustainable—by hugely reducing the amount of electricity it imports—it contacted Exeter company SunGift Energy to design a bespoke 318.58kWp solar PV system.

Carbon emissions reduced by 163 tonnes per year

The 318.58 kWp solar PV system will produce around 314,000 kWh of electricity per year—enough to power the equivalent of 101 average houses and reduce carbon emissions by 163 tonnes each year.  Thanks to the electricity that it generates, the system will take less than five years to generate enough savings to pay for itself.

SunGift director Gabriel Wondrausch said: “Despite being an energy energy-intensive operation that has to keep food chilled 24-hours-a-day, Charlie Bigham’s has had sustainability at the heart of its operations from day one. That’s why a solar PV system makes sense now more than ever. With constantly-rising electricity costs, a high-quality solar PV system provides energy security, reduced CO2 emissions and ensures that businesses are not at the mercy of energy suppliers.

“Bigham’s solar PV was an exceptional project to undertake. As a RIBA-award-winning campus it required an equally-matched solar PV system, so we worked hard alongside the Bigham’s team to get a precise understanding of the campus’s energy demand. We then modelled the most appropriate system for its needs so that it would meet the company’s performance and aesthetic requirements.”

SunGift Energy recently moved from Marsh Barton to new offices at Huxham, near Stoke Canon, Exeter.

Charlie Bigham, who started his company in 1996 with the aim of creating mouth-watering pre-prepared meals for people, said: “Like most food producers, our operations are very energy intensive,” said “Our refrigerators are in constant use, keeping our freshly-made food at optimum temperatures. That’s why this solar PV system will be invaluable, particularly in the summer months.  99.5% of the electricity that it generates will be used by our facility, with just 0.5% being exported back to the grid.”

Solar PV at its most effective for high electricity users

Food manufacturers like Charlie Bigham’s make excellent use of large solar PV systems.  While an average business makes excellent use of the electricity it generates (typically using around 50% of the electricity it generates onsite), food manufacturers have continuous energy needs and quite often use every bit of electricity they generate for themselves.

“Since starting the business my goal has always been for Bigham’s to become a 100% sustainable company,” added Charlie, “so, over the past 20 years, we have continually introduced measures that improve our the way we operate. When we switched on our solar PV system I knew we had achieved an important next step in our journey.”

In the past 20 years Charlie Bigham’s has introduced a tremendous number of green initiatives, including a strict programme of energy monitoring and reduction; switching almost all of its packaging from plastic to sustainably-sourced wood; carrying out its own onsite water-treatment; recycling all waste (with none going to landfill and all food waste being anaerobically digested); and closely monitoring its CO2 emissions.

As part of the installation, SunGift also included all electrical cables and items, an access platform and a perimeter guard rail, installation of all equipment, connections to the inverters, test certification, and full set-up and commissioning.

SunGift finished the job to a ‘meticulous standard’

“Our solar PV system is generating exactly as expected,” said Charlie, “and it was safely installed under rigorous coronavirus controls.  “We are very proud of our food production campus at Dulcote Quarry—it’s a stylish, high-quality environment with exceptional attention-to-detail—so the PV system had to be deigned to perfectly complement this. I’m thrilled with SunGift’s work at Dulcote Quarry as they designed a bespoke system to fit our brief, had a wonderful approach and finished the job to a meticulous standard.”

The Exeter Daily