Why we became London solar manufacturing pioneers

Why we became London solar manufacturing pioneers

  • Nov 01,2019

Stuart Wilkinson, marketing and sales director at P Wilkinson Containers, explores the impacts of solar manufacturing 

In 2010, P Wilkinson Containers Ltd. and William Say Co. opted to install solar panels covering every flat roof on our factory site in Bermondsey, where we’ve been based for over 40 years. We are a packaging stockist and provide materials to businesses large and small worldwide and are the only independent canmakers left in the capital. As early adopters of solar energy, our site is one of the largest solar farms in the heart of London.

In 2017, The Telegraph reported that London was seriously lagging in its deployment of solar energy. The capital was making a slim contribution to the total installed photovoltaic capacity for England, Wales and Scotland estimated by the Ofgem feed-in tariff report for 2016 at 3,609 megawatts from almost 748,000 installations.  Regionally the area provided just 2.25 per cent of Great Britain’s overall photovoltaic (PV) capacity.

There are lots of reasons for the slow take-up – the structural complexities of the capital, a fluctuating population and different types of property ownership all play a factor.

But as Holly Walton, Business Solutions Development Manager at E.ON UK observes, we may be approaching a new solar revolution: “Any organisation with the long-term view that low-cost, carbon-free energy is important to them or their customers should consider solar power as a way of achieving their aims.” And that’s ultimately why we became early adopters of solar power.

The case for solar manufacturing

We’ve been based on our site in the centre of London for over four decades; it’s our heritage and we certainly don’t have any plans to move the family business. In this sense, solar panels were a no-brainer -they were an investment into our own sustainable future.

Solar farm at William Say

Solar panels generate energy all day and even overnight if there’s a bright, full moon. This powers our entire site – our canmaking factory, warehouse and offices. Of course, during peak times, we do also draw from the National Grid.  However, our solar farm literally powers everything – our whole electricity usage, whether it’s recharging a laptop; a hybrid car; e-bikes; forklifts; machinery on the manufacturing line; or charging phones and boiling the kettle at lunchtime.

Installing was a relatively pain-free; a team wired in the panels across the site and we have a dashboard in on our factory floor that shows us how much power we’re generating from the solar farm on the roof.  Maintenance has also been straightforward and the panels have not required any cleaning since their installation. We have had only one or two repaired through simple wear and tear.

What does solar energy mean for packaging?

As packaging manufacturers, suppliers and stockists, we know how important it is to show that we are actively looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m pretty sure that this will become a key metric in the procurement process if it isn’t already. Laura Fernandez, packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer, says the company is already looking at ways that they can rate suppliers against factors such as their use of renewable energy.

Metal Recycles Forever stamped on tin

We know from our own customers that they are looking for packaging materials with heightened environmental credentials. Every piece of metal packaging produced by our factory, from paint cans and industrial containers to biscuit tins, is produced with machinery powered by the solar farm.  We share our environmental policy and we know that our solar farm gives confidence to our customers that we actually ‘walk the talk’.

It’s also important to our customers’ customers, everyday consumers, who are looking for greener alternatives and want to physically see how a piece of packaging is pulling its weight.

In the case of our tins, each is now embossed with both the ‘Metal Recycles Forever’ logo which reminds consumers to both recycle their can and of metal’s special status as a permanently available material which means it can be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality.

And when consumers turn our cans upside down, they’ll also see ‘manufactured in London using solar power’ showing both the provenance of the packaging and its solar credentials.  Anecdotally, we’re receiving an increasing number of comments, especially from start-ups, who are more conscious about the environment and our solar-powered site.

There couldn’t be a greater reason to adopt solar manufacturing – simply greener packaging.