Founded in 1870, the British Red Cross is a volunteer led humanitarian organisation that helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are.

It enables vulnerable people at home and overseas to prepare for and respond to emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, it helps people recover and move on with their lives.

With its humanitarian approach and its first hand experience of natural weather disasters, it is little surprise that the organisation takes the prospect of climate change very seriously indeed. As a result, it implemented a carbon reduction programme in 2009 which initially monitored electricity and gas usage across its 800 UK properties and translated that data into C02 emissions. In 2010, the Red Cross set its first target of a five percent reduction in emissions but, looking to the future, it knew there were other ways in which it could dramatically reduce its energy use.

“Last year, as part of our forward looking strategy, we decided to look at generating our own energy through photovoltaic (PV) panels. PV technology is easy to install and, thanks to the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) it supplies a financial return,” explained Richard Dickens, environmental officer, British Red Cross. “We identified three properties in Exeter, Reading and Nottingham that had south facing roofs which were suitable to support a solar installation. Then we had to find the right partner to do the job.

“The warranty was important to us because this is a long term investment and we needed the extra protection that Conergy provides,” Dickens added. “After assessing all the manufacturers, Conergy was also the best panel manufacturer and Square Deal Solar was the ideal installation partner.”

Square Deal Solar undertook structural surveys of the three properties and, working with Conergy, designed the most appropriate and best yielding solar arrays. It then dispatched a team of installers to each site to complete the process.

“From start to finish, Square Deal Solar took around three weeks – it was a simple, clean and efficient project. In fact, our staff and volunteers commented on how well they worked without disrupting the business,” continued Dickens. “Most important of all, at no point was the mains electricity affected so we experienced no down-time. We simply switched to solar and now we are reaping the benefits.”

Since installing the panels in June 2012, the Red Cross has seen instant, measurable rewards. Of the three locations, Exeter is the most extensive with 160 Conergy PowerPlus panels – during July and August it generated 10,991kWh of energy. Reading generated 5,265kWh and Nottingham 2,765kWh. Taken together that equates to savings of £5,167 and a total carbon reduction of 9,978 kilos.

Dickens continued, “We started this with a view to reducing carbon emissions so, in a sense, the cost savings are a bonus. We certainly didn’t expect to save this much money – it is 40% higher than our original estimate and means the installation will pay for itself within four years rather than the seven we had anticipated. This makes it much more commercially viable for organisations and homes of all sizes. And let’s not forget that it was one of the wettest summers on record – if the sun had been shining who knows how much more energy we might have generated?”

At each of locations, there is now a digital real time read-out in the reception which details how much energy has been generated and how that translates into carbon reduction and cost savings. For staff, volunteers and visitors, this has proved something of an eye opener.

“I’ve had people call me up, having seen the huge impact this solar project has had, and ask where can I get this,” said Dickens. “People suddenly realise that solar is a viable technology and actively pays for itself. They can also see that it can be aesthetically pleasing. It really is causing a lot of excitement across the organisation.”

Initially, the Red Cross had no intention of extending the project beyond the original three properties, however, the unexpected success and returns are making the organisation have a rethink.

Dickens concluded, “The payback period has been reduced so it has become a more commercially viable proposition – that’s why we are now considering where else might be suitable for a solar installation. It has also been so warmly received by staff. When they are using their computers or making a cuppa, they get a warm glow knowing that it is being powered by the sun above.”