Opinion

Solar, a glowing example of green energy

With 20 years’ experience in solar, Vital Energi’s pre-construction manager, Giles Barker, shares his experience on how solar technologies provide a bright and sustainable future

Vital Energi employee Giles Barker

Giles came into the solar business by accident. Working for a social housing developer, paired with a lifelong passion for saving energy and doing things more efficiently, Giles homed in on the idea of people being more sustainable and self-sufficient. ‘I grew up in a rural area, so efficiency has been instilled into me from a young age’, he explained.

‘I first installed solar panels in 2004 during a social housing development project, and really liked the idea of residents being able to save money on energy costs and benefit from free electricity, and properties, as a whole, being more self-sufficient. I enjoy thinking outside the box to overcome different challenges when improving energy efficiencies, introducing solutions which will truly benefit the client. Solar energy is good for the planet too, so I’m passionate about introducing it wherever I can’. 

When working within the social housing sector, Giles was able to help those who were around the poverty line. ‘I was helping those who really needed it, those who couldn’t afford to buy food let alone cook it, as they couldn’t afford to put money in the meter’, he explained. The installation of solar panels had a radical effect on their lives. Furthermore, Solar PV can work effectively, independently or as part of a technology mix. ‘Solar works very well with both Air Source Heat Pumps and Ground Source Heat Pumps’, he explained. ‘On installation, think about how solar can work with other low carbon technologies, such as battery storage and heat pumps to provide more significant benefits. If installed properly, clients can reap the benefits for many years.’

Vital Energi produces energy efficient heat and power systems and consumption reduction solutions for a broad range of markets including healthcare, education, industrial, commercial, residential, and local authorities. As a business, Vital is committed to helping the UK’s decarbonisation journey through the installation of renewable technologies. ‘We practice what we preach’, says Giles. There are 264 solar panels on the roof, with plans for further expansion to further decrease the amount of power we use from the grid. Our current solar coverage powers the Vital fleet of electric vehicles, many of which are electric, and there is the facility to charge 22 vehicles at once. So far, our solar panels have powered over 400,000 electric miles, saving 8,000 gallons of fuel. ‘We’re very aware of our environmental responsibilities, and we’re proud that the majority of our fleet comprises electric and hybrid vehicles. We also promote video conferencing and public transport as ways of reducing our emissions and we’ll continue to improve, year on year, to ensure we have the greenest fleet possible’ explained Gile

The solar market is now in a resurgent position as people are really starting to acknowledge the benefits. The price point has moved too, which makes it much more accessible. Instead of solar being incentivised through the tariff line as it was initially, organisations are now looking to offset their carbon footprint and help work towards our net zero targets. In all honesty installers should maintain their standards, ethics, integrity and quality. Installed solar product prices have also reduced by 75% in 10 years, approximately, making them a more accessible commodity. 

During his time at Vital, Giles has worked on a broad range of solar schemes from freestanding solar farm projects and private wire schemes, to on roof schemes delivered as part of larger projects. ‘There is a common misconception that solar farms pose environmental challenges, however when installed correctly, they can have a positive impact on the surrounding land. For example, the land where solar farms are located can be used for active grazing, and the solar panels create man-made shelters for livestock, which stops them overheating during summer months’, he explained. He went to on say that not all fields on solar farms have to be mowed, but instead wildflowers can grow, and the flora and fauna grow to roughly the same height as the solar panels, so they don’t affect efficiencies. This is of huge benefit to the environment, as the world is short of bees (mother nature’s gardeners), and these meadows provide a feast for them’.