Emergency power generation expert Wardpower is going “back to the future” and seeking expansion in export markets after capitalising on major growth at home since the mid 1990s.
The Sheffield-based firm has been making generating sets for more than 50 years, originally as part of Thomas Ward’s.
The break up of Ward’s by RTZ saw the Wardpower emerge as an independent business, now in the ownership of chairman Bob Linley, who joined Ward’s as a 16 year old and ended up selling Wardpower generators around the world.
The business has changed significantly over the years. In Bob Linley’s youth, much of the business was abroad and for fairly standard products.
The mobile ‘phone boom in the 90s started that change and today, everything leaving Ward’s Wicker Lane works is tailor made and for mission or safety critical applications.
While telecoms and IT firms initially drove that growth, Wardpower’s customers today include power generators and distributors, hospitals, football stadiums and giant supermarkets, as well as industrial plants which range from steel works to chocolate factories, not to mention fish farms.
Customers include the National Grid, National Health Services, Scottish Power, Vodaphone, BNFL and the Prison Service.
“We supply anybody for whom power loss would pose a danger to health and safety or profits,” Bob Linley explains.
And the company doesn’t simply supply generating sets – which could run on gas, diesel or bio-diesel – it has the capability to manage whole projects, prepare specifications and commission and service equipment which could be at locations as inaccessible as an oil rig or wind farm in the North Sea.
“We’ve done several windfarms, the biggest being the London Array,” says Bob Linley.
Wardpower’s generators will provide back up power when the 180 turbines being erected in the outer Thames Estuary 12 miles from the Kent and Essex coasts are taken off line for maintenance.
Much of the time, the hope is that Wardpower’s equipment will never need to be used and only run when frontline power sources are taken off line for maintenance or to ensure the back up system is working as it should.
But, if disaster strikes, it is designed to provide power seamlessly or –when a power station shuts down, for example – the power without which the system couldn’t be restarted.
In some cases, Wardpower may not only supply the back up, but a back up for the back up.
More recently, in the wake of major electricity price rises, Wardpower’s back up generators have been used to produce electricity at peak times, while the conventional electricity supply is relegated to being the back up in the unlikely event of the generator set failing.
The company is also seeing a trend towards companies forming consortiums to use their Wardpower generating sets to provide electricity for their own sites.
“In years gone by, local electricity boards were reluctant to allow companies to install their own systems, but they are more supportive of anybody who wants to generate their own power today,” says Mr Linley.