Case study

BT El Segundo:

Harvesting the Californian sun

Context

Although BT has made tremendous strides in limiting its environmental impact, much of that has been realised in the UK. Reducing its carbon footprint on a global basis is no less essential but more of a challenge, not least because BT businesses outside the UK are still growing rapidly.

It has thus set a 2020 target of reducing its worldwide CO2e emissions intensity by 80 per cent (measured against 1997 levels). This will help BT meet increasing customer demand at the same time as controlling greenhouse gases on a track to avoid catastrophic climate change. In fact, by the end of the 2010 financial year BT had already achieved a 54 per cent CO2e reduction; an excellent result, but there?s clearly more to do.

 

Challenge

One of the most significant global BT offices is its North American corporate headquarters at El Segundo in Los Angeles County. Some 440 BT employees are based there, along with a network operations centre and a data centre, hosting services for customers as well as BT-internal applications.

The potential to harvest the power of the Californian sun was an opportunity too good to ignore. "Our BT Americas HQ in California was an ideal location for a solar power system due to the large and unobstructed south-facing areas,” says Michael Boustridge, President, BT Global Services Multi-National Corporations. “The pressing need for our industry to cut its carbon emissions, and the leadership of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on renewable energy initiatives, helped us easily decide to extend the BT global climate change strategy to our US operations.”

Commercial Model

BT chose to work with Solar Power Partners (SPP) – one of America’s premier independent solar power producers. SPP owns and operates the system, with the solar-generated electricity sold to BT under a Power Purchase Agreement. Suntech Energy Solutions, working as a subcontractor to SPP, undertook design and installation. The viability of the scheme was boosted by rebates and tax incentives from the State of California, which effectively funded around 50 per cent of the cost of the system.

System Design

 The system covers almost all of the available outside space at the site and comprises solar modules mounted on top of a state-of-the-art, single-axis tracking system from RayTracker. It enables the solar panels, principally mounted on an elevated structure in the south facing car park, to follow the sun. This maximises energy production during peak hours when rates are highest, creating the potential for incremental energy savings that more than counteract the cost of the tracking system.

Around one million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean electricity is generated annually, which represents between 15 and 20 per cent of the site’s total energy needs. Looked at another way, it caters for almost 100 per cent of the needs of the office space (excluding the data centre), which represents the bulk of the square footage at the site.

Carbon Avoidance

Carbon savings equate to over 300 metric tonnes annually. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of removing 63 medium-sized cars from the road, or powering more than 150 Californian homes for a whole year. Furthermore, BT retains all of the renewable energy certificates generated by the installation.

Implementation

The BT renewable energy initiative at El Segundo has drawn much positive comment. Speaking when the project was announced HRH Prince Andrew, the UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, said: “I commend BT for its leadership in producing significant renewable energy solutions in the UK. With this solar project, BT extends its environmental consciousness to its operations in the US.”

Construction of the solar power installation was not without its challenges. Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BT Americas, recalls: “The original design of the installation used a steel structure, but just as we were about to begin construction the price of steel spiked unexpectedly. The additional cost would have made the scheme uneconomic, prompting a redesign using concrete piers to support the solar panels.” This move has actually also resulted in a physical design that is more in keeping with the look and feel of the building.

Value

"Going solar offers us significant business advantages, including cost savings and a positive effect on our sustainability goals, all of which affect BT’s bottom line,” comments Michael Boustridge. As well as contributing towards BT’s carbon reduction targets, the solar power system at El Segundo partly insulates the company from unexpected price increases of grid electricity, with predictable energy costs for solar generated power through the Power Purchase Agreement for the duration of its current tenancy.

On the other side of the coin, BT is committed to reducing energy usage at the El Segundo site. One of the most power hungry areas is its data centre. By using server consolidation and virtualisation techniques BT is successfully meeting capacity growth demands without increasing energy consumption. There is also an initiative to increase the ambient light in the building through daylight harvesting. Photocells sense natural light levels and reduce electric light intensity accordingly, saving more than 100,000kWh of electricity annually.

There was a welcome spin off benefit too. The elevated solar panel structure creates shaded parking facilities for vehicles, something that employees had already requested.

Kevin Moss sums up: “Reducing energy consumption increases the percentage of power that the new solar system contributes to our overall usage. To have one of the biggest urban solar installations in Southern California is very significant. I believe this puts BT Americas in a leadership position.”

Not content with making its business facilities more sustainable, BT has launched a programme to make it easier for its US-based employees to investigate the potential for solar energy in their own homes. BT has made special arrangements with two leading vendors of home solar systems, which feature free site surveys as well as attractive discounts on standard prices. BT is also helping its people make informed decisions by offering online facilities as well as hosting a monthly teleconference where employees can share their experience with other participants in the programme.

Technical highlights

System size:  2,862 solar modules
System rating:  601kW-DC
Forecast power generated per annum: 917kWh
Actual power generated (year one): 1,011kWh
Annual carbon savings: 300 metric tonnes

BT’s sustainability credentials

BT has a longstanding commitment to responsible and sustainable business practices and its achievements to date have been widely recognised. BT was ranked sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for eight consecutive years (between 2001 and 2008) and has been awarded two prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the sustainable development category. BT has also been awarded the Carbon Trust Standard for its progress on measuring, managing, and reducing its carbon footprint.

As part of its climate change strategy BT is investing in the development of wind farms following a similar approach to that at El Segundo . This project is the largest of its kind in the UK outside the energy sector and is forecast to deliver 25 per cent of BT’s UK electricity requirement by 2016.

BT also offers a Carbon Impact Assessment Service to help organisations better understand their energy consumption and carbon emissions, as well as identify opportunities for reduction.

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