NIBSC Solar PV Project

Environment and Energy Manager Jude Hughes, has over the last seven years, achieved the following headline figures at the National Institute Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC); a large and energy intensive Government Research Institute:

  • Electricity consumption reduced by 14%
  • Gas consumption reduced by 20%
  • Cost savings on utilities £963k
  • Carbon Footprint reduced by 21%


NIBSC is a global leader in the characterization, standardization and control of biological medicines. NIBSC plays a major role in assuring the quality of such medicines worldwide through the provision of biological reference materials, by testing products and carrying out research. Expert scientists also provide advice on a routine basis and also in response to emergencies for the Government.

As such NIBSC, a highly specialized Institute with predominately laboratory environments, is an energy intensive organization; but led by Jude, staff have worked hard to reduce its impact on the environment through numerous energy saving projects. A priority has been to tackle older inefficient equipment from the 1980s built site.

Business Case

Jude has brought numerous ideas to the table and managed many site energy projects (see examples in supplementary information). The project management process, following PRINCE 2 methodology, involves “selling” business cases to the Senior Management Team (SMT). Projects are judged on criteria such as: budget and savings in energy, carbon and overall payback. The Institutes approach to sustainability and energy savings is all down to Jude’s endeavors and her ability to get staff onboard and present a robust business case.

Jude instigated a Specific Opportunities Assessment to investigate longer term investment opportunities for the Institute in order to continue the momentum for energy saving.

From the different areas assessed the Solar PV Project was identified as one of the best potentials for investment and it represented NIBSC’s first stride into renewable technology. The Environment and Energy Manager put together the business case details for the proposal and presented the option to the SMT; gaining their endorsement for the project.

Project Challenges

The NIBSC Solar PV Project hit the UK solar industry at a very turbulent time; as several Government consultations commenced that were likely to have far reaching effects on the industry. This included the Government removing the option for preliminary accreditation where organizations could essentially hold the Feed in Tariff (FIT) rate prior to solar projects commencing. And secondly a Government consultation was proposed to reduce the FITs by 87% which would have a significant impact on solar projects payback as well as the overall UK solar industry.

As a result of these uncertainties in the Solar Industry the Environment and Energy Manager decided to adapt the initial project proposals in two main ways. Firstly seeking to gain an increased budget, to purchase a greater number of panels in order to maximize the investment opportunity due to the changing market and it was likely to be a one off opportunity. And secondly, Jude saw the roof space as an asset, and sought to change the panel specification to essentially double the potential output from 150 kW to 300 kW panel size.

Nick Carpenter, Business Development Manager, 5D Group: “The installation of the Solar PV arrays at NIBSC faced differing challenges due to the delicate nature of the site and its unique requirements. These were overcome by liaison with the relevant departments and working together with the principal contractor and site project management team with a series of meetings prior to the start of the project.

Further challenges include the consultation process for the Feed-in-tariff brought about by the Government prior to the start of the project. The consultation proposed cuts to Government support for Solar PV. This affected the supply chain and the time available to complete the project. More than ever we required a great deal of communication, facilitation from the client and extended hours on site. Potential issues with the Solar PV and Generators were highlighted. Following meetings with the site engineers we installed relay switches to ensure the PV shuts down and stays off when the generators are working. Compliance for this was also required by UK Power Networks. The installation ran smoothly due to the communications between the parties involved.”

Complexities of the Project

The project commenced late FY15/16 and incorporated work on seven different buildings across the site as well as internally in the relevant plant rooms.

The project had its own complexities. Due to the importance of continuous electrical supply to the site and the specialist nature of scientific work carried out there; power supply and its security was crucial. It was essential that the project provided both grid resilience and full integration with site wide emergency backup generators.

The site has a complex layered system of power; including interface with two concurrent connections to the National Grid including alternative external mains supply as well as the site wide internal backup generators.

This added difficulty to the project, and a robust strategy had to be developed to cope with this arrangement and give confidence to those managing the power supply. As well as give confidence and reassurance to SMT along with scientific staff that the project would not disrupt working practices.

Project Specifics

The Solar PV Project involved installation of a 447 kW array across seven south facing roof spaces. And in total some 1,490 roof mounted solar panels were installed. Larger 300 kW output panels were used, to maximize the potential to generate electricity.

Calculations carried out by the Solar Company prior to installation were used to produce the estimated output of 441,000 kWh per annum based on the number and size of solar panels installed.

This amount of energy generation equates up to 10 % of the sites annual electricity requirement.

Energy Savings

The estimated achievable output was profiled, using project specifics as well as local area and weather conditions, to give projections across a typical year. A total saving of £2.7 million was estimated across the 20 year project lifecycle, with a 7 year payback.

These savings will be realized from three main sources over the 20 year period. Firstly off-setting grid electricity which will give estimated savings of £1,959k; this takes into account electricity price increases of approximately 8 % which is exactly what has been experienced at NIBSC in the last 5 years.

Another financial benefit will be the FIT payments, held by preliminary accreditation, during the project to ensure the most favorable rate for the Institute. These are index linked to inflation at 3% per annum and will bring £705k over the 20 year period.

Plus savings from carbon tax abatement, including 3% increase which we have seen from the Government over just the last year and will save £93k.

Reductions in carbon emissions have also been a key incentive to adopting this project and are estimated as 204 TCO2 saved per annum.

This first step into renewable energy has been very well received by NIBSC staff and has not only generated a lot of energy but also generated a lot of interest!

NIBSCs Commitment

NIBSC was conscious of its responsibilities to reduce energy and carbon, and made a brilliant appointment in Jude. Jude was immediately able to get both SMT and staff buy-in to a raft of low and minimal cost improvements.

Subsequently Jude developed business cases for a series of capital projects, also being highly successful, leading to a reduction of £963k and making significant reductions to the Institute’s operating costs at a time of austerity. The credibility and confidence built was key to obtaining buy-in for significant investments.

A prime example is the Solar PV Project which we expect to generate £2.7 million savings by end of its lifecycle. An additional less tangible benefit has been the considerable staff goodwill that our energy projects have generated which has enhanced the Institute’s reputation for corporate responsibility, and helped with recruitment.