A Tankersley company is turning an old Yorkshire adage on its head and proving that you can not only get ‘owt for nowt’ – you can also make a profit on it and save the planet.
A Shade Greener was launched two years ago to capitalise on a government initiative to encourage homeowners to generate their own electricity from solar power.
The company has made a major impact in a comparatively short time and proudly boasts that it has fitted one in five of all the domestic solar power systems nationwide.
What’s more, it has fitted them for free.
It was founder Stewart Davies, a former senior partner with accountants Haines Watts, who came up with the idea of installing panels at no charge and letting householders use as much power as they wanted for free, too.
Stewart reckoned that Government proposals for a Feed In Tariff - which pays people to generate their own electricity and an additional sum if they supply any excess to the national grid - would more than cover the cost and leave a healthy profit for investors.
Which was just as well as Stewart was equally convinced that only a handful of Britons would turn eco-warrior and pay for their own solar panels.
This was because many might not live long enough to reap and serious financial benefits.
Turning his idea into reality wasn’t easy.
First, Stewart had to convince potential investors that his idea would work. Then he had to convince a sceptical public.
To cap it all, the Government kept dragging its feet over an official announcement – eventually launching the scheme almost six months after originally scheduled and giving companies like Stewart’s around two months before it became law.
Convincing funders GE Capital and RBS was one of the hardest things Stewart has ever done.
“It was almost impossible to convince them. I had to sell the idea of a £120 million investment in something that did not exist and tell them it would work,” he says. What’s more – depending on how inflation goes – it could be a good few years before that investment starts realising a profit.
With the funders on board the next job was to convince the public, who thought solar panels wouldn’t work in the UK and there had to be a trick in a free offer.
“People think solar panels generate much more in Cornwall or in France, but the truth is that there is an optimum temperature and they can get too warm,” says Stewart.
“We are ideally placed here – away from the coast, with quite a lot of clean, dry air and it’s not too warm. Around 42 per cent of electricity used by domestic properties in Germany is generated by the sun. We are on the same parallel and we have got the same climate.”
When it comes to doing it for free, A Shade Greener has gone to great lengths to ensure householders whose homes as suitable face no expense or hassle.
“Up here, free’s free,” says Stewart Davies. “If anyone has to put their hand in their pocket, it’s not free.”