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Ploughing into renewables

With a national network of roof training academies, an MD on the Green Construction Board and a long-standing interest in solar and renewables, Ploughcroft seems ideally placed to take advantage of the Green Deal.

“The Green Deal is going to be massive, but although it comes in in October I don’t think it will be like turning on the tap full blast. First people need to get used to what it is,” says Ploughcroft managing director Chris Hopkins.

“I think there will be a gradual build-up as domestic homeowners start to understand what it is, which also gives companies time to upskill their workers in Green Deal skills,” he says.

One way workers will be able to upskill is through training courses at academies such as the 13 around the UK run by Ploughcroft. “Our centres will be some of the first to help train construction workers on the new Green Deal accreditation measures,” says Mr Hopkins.

The sustainable construction and renewables company began in 1997 as a roofing and building maintenance business, but in 2005 Mr Hopkins decided to develop a NVQ roof training academy and in 2008 he developed a solar roofing NVQ.

“That was the thing that really changed Ploughcroft,” says Mr Hopkins.

“I developed an NVQ for solar before the solar economy really took off. That NVQ is now called VR298 and it’s on the full curriculum.”

TV exposure

In the past year Ploughcroft has experienced sizeable growth, in part due to Mr Hopkins appearance on the BBC show Dragons’ Den in July 2011, but he is keen to emphasise that this alone would not have been enough to ensure growth.

“If we hadn’t put the hard work in or had the foresight to start the training academy and the solar training course, I would never have got on Dragons’ Den,” he says. “The exposure on TV was a catalyst for the major growth we’ve experienced in the past 12 months.”

Alongside his work at Ploughcroft, Mr Hopkins also sits on the Green Construction Board and the steering group looking at the accreditation processes for the Green Deal, which allows the company to build its brand and be at the cutting edge of Green Deal knowledge.

“We’re at the front of the knowledge base with the committees we’re on now; we can use that knowledge to train our staff first, be almost first to market and then train our competitors in the industry how to get into it.

“So ultimately we can all help the UK decarbonise; that’s the aim,” says Mr Hopkins. But he is not complacent about the company’s position or the green economy.

“The renewables industry is always evolving, so you need to be constantly aware of new technology advances coming in like LED lighting and electric vehicles; it’s a continuing diversification journey,” he says.

The company has benefited from its experience in the solar industry, particularly at a time when there has been uncertainty created by the cut to Feed-in Tariffs.

“A lot of companies out there don’t have the same experience as us, they jumped on the solar bandwagon in the past 18 months but we’ve been involved since 2005,” says Mr Hopkins.

As with many of his contemporaries who run successful businesses that include solar, Mr Hopkins agrees that although the way the government went about it was wrong, the cut in the Feed-in Tariff was the right thing to do.

“The Feed-in Tariff was too good anyway; 21p is the right place for it and those people who are whinging are the get-rich-quick brigade. In a sustainable industry you don’t want them because all they do is take the cream off the top and go bust,” he says.

To thrive in the renewables industry, Mr Hopkins says the firm must be willing to adapt. “We’re moving from a building and solar company to a sustainable construction and renewables business, so whatever comes in that low-carbon arena Ploughcroft is well positioned to deliver it as an installer,” he says.



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