One megawatt of green power near The English Riviera

In February 2013, Northern Europe’s largest roof-mounted solar power system went online in Devon. Yes, that’s right: in Northern Europe! The mild Gulf Stream climate and intense solar irradiation elicit a Mediterranean atmosphere in the popular tourist region. Since the mid-eighties, the Trago Group of Companies have been running the truly unique combination of shopping mall and leisure oasis in this idyllic area. The largest of their three new solar power systems, located in Newton Abbot, generates about 915 MWh of green electricity every year. 3,754 Sunmodule Plus modules from SolarWorld have come along for the ride.
Thanks to good planning and sophisticated technology, this mammoth project was completed in just one month.

We have been evolving as a company with a focus on sustainability

One person who has witnessed Trago Group’s rise from the very beginning is its Chairman Bruce Robertson. Since 1988, he has been taking care of his three Trago Mills shopping malls in Cornwall and Devon in an even almost paternal manner. The Newton Abbot location in South Devon, with its adjacent garden and leisure park is a favourite with families. Bruce is well aware of the fact that the mall, which he describes fondly and with a hint of self-irony as “neo-Gothic meets Disney”, is unparalleled in the retail sector. In recent years, energy saving has been a top order of business at Trago, just as it has been at many other companies. “We are now evolving into a company with a focus on sustainability,” recalls Bruce. “It was, first and foremost, an economic issue for us.” Trago heat the buildings of their garden park with environmentally friendly air source
heat pumps and have been placing an emphasis on recycling for years now. It did not take management long to realise that this was just the beginning of something big.

Solar power gaining widespread acceptance

We are a respected local company with a high profile in the area,” Bruce Robertson boasts. “That is why it was important for us to use a form of renewable energy that would also be popular with the public. Solar power turned out to be a very elegant solution.” Continuing, he emphasises
that collecting electricity from the company’s own roof is not only very efficient but also a virtually inconspicuous operation. “Our huge rooftop system is not even visible from outside.” Trago invested a total of two million pounds in the three solar power systems, and they literally found their installer on their doorstep: “Devon Eco Energy are one of the 30 periphery partners of our company,” says Bruce. “So we trusted them completely.” When the installer recommended the German module manufacturer SolarWorld, Bruce didn’t have to think twice.

Mammoth project mastered with ease

“SolarWorld immediately convinced us with their renowned ‘Made in Germany’ quality standards, an excellent price-performance ratio and their 25-year linear performance guarantee,” Bruce Robertson says, explaining his choice. The systems were installed during the winter months, which are often cold and windy, even in The English Riviera. It was not an easy task, especially considering that the project was in the megawatt range. “At Newton Abbot, the solar modules weigh about 100 tonnes combined,” says Bruce. “The total load had to be meticulously calculated.” Nevertheless, the south-facing installation was completed in just one month – not least because of the robust framing system Sunfix plus, which easily withstands high wind speeds. Bruce is very taken by the sophisticated technology and climbed up onto the roof despite his fear of heights: “I simply had to convince myself personally of the high quality of the installation.”

Making an invisible system get noticed

The numbers do indeed sound like record-breakers. “As you know, we as a shopping centre have to ensure adequate lighting for our products,” Bruce Robertson says smiling. “This means high energy costs.” Newton Abbot relies on 100 percent self-generated power and covers 25 percent of its immense consumption with the solar power system.
Together with the returns from the generation tariff, the location’s electricity bill is halved. What is more, the average
period of time it will take for all three Trago Mills installations to be amortised amounts to a mere seven years. Large screens in the shopping area display current power yield and consumption: this means that while shopping, visitors are able to see the benefits of a high quality, sustainable energy solution. The 450 Trago employees,
who closely followed the installation day by day, have been aware of this fact for some time now. Even Devon Eco
Energyhave seen a significant increase with enquiries for private solar power systems as a result.