Accolade Wines: England’s biggest onshore wind turbine goes up

The world is facing a climate change crisis. Drastic steps are being taken to transform the way we produce, store, and use energy. We visited Accolade Wines, a manufacturer who is now supplying its UK site with renewable energy via a newly constructed – and England’s biggest – onshore wind turbine.

England's biggest onshore wind turbine is powering the plant - image courtesy of Accolade Wines.
England’s biggest onshore wind turbine is powering the plant – image courtesy of Accolade Wines.

Manufacturing has been known as a ready and willing consumer of energy, from whatever source was available.

However, a wind of change is set to sweep through the UK’s industrial landscape, with manufacturers seeking a more energy efficient and sustainable future.

Accolade Wines is the fifth largest wine company in the world. Accolade Park, its Avonmouth facility near Bristol, produces 25m, nine-litre case equivalents of wine every year. It’s a big operation and it uses a lot of energy.

The manufacturer has placed sustainability at the core of its strategy, and just a few weeks ago the team, in partnership with CleanEarth (a company that works with businesses to find decarbonisation solutions), finished building England’s biggest onshore wind turbine at its site.

The bigger the better

“Our robust supply chain needs to be sustainable. Using green energy is one way of achieving this at Accolade Park,” says Akshan Jirasinha, renewable projects engineer at Accolade Wines.

“We also have water recycling projects, and we are a zero-waste-to-landfill site, which we achieved last year. Sustainability is very important to us.”

The turbine has a power rating of 2.5MW, is 130m in height, and has a 110m rotor diameter. The energy it produces could power 1,800 UK homes and the turbine will eliminate the production of more than 7,000 tonnes of carbon each year, with a lifetime saving of nearly nine times that figure.

“We will run the site on 100% renewable electricity by October,” adds Akshan. “It is a huge achievement for the company and it’s a good example for industry. If you get me talking about climate change, I won’t stop!”

Manufactured by German company Vensys, the turbine will provide 50% of the energy needed to power Europe’s largest wine warehouse and distribution centre. The remaining energy requirement will be purchased at a higher rate from green energy suppliers.

The power of wind

wind turbine energy - image TM
Renewable energy made up 33% of the UK’s energy production.

Renewable energy made up a record 33% of the UK’s energy production in 2018, of which wind accounted for just over half (17%). Wind power provides one of the greenest and most cost-effective options for electricity generation.

According to RenewableUK, there are 7,781 onshore wind turbines and 1,932 offshore turbines in the UK, which combined save nearly 26 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

A wind turbine can recover its carbon debt from manufacturing within a year of installation, and go on to generate carbon-free energy for up to 30 years, according to CleanEarth.

Britain is the world leader in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than any other country. Already, offshore wind powers the equivalent of 4.5 million homes annually, and will generate over 10% of UK electricity by 2020.

The cost of new offshore wind generation has fallen by 50% since 2015 and it’s now one of the lowest cost options for new power in the UK.

Saving money, making money

“The greenest unit of electricity will always be the one that is saved,” says Akshan. “Rather than build a wind turbine to generate electricity and then waste it, the first thing to look at is internal use of energy. Invest in this behavioural change as much as you can and make it part of your standard operational practice.”

The turbine during its construction at Accolade Park - image courtesy of Accolade Wines.
The turbine during its construction at Accolade Park – image courtesy of Accolade Wines.

There are major challenges to overcome if the manufacturing industry is to be its greenest.

Decarbonisation is difficult for energy intensive industries such as manufacturing because of the UK’s sky-high electricity prices, which are in some cases double that of European countries. This poses a real threat to industry’s competitiveness.

The subleasing solution

“Our utility costs were going up and up, and as a company we’re always looking at lean processes,” says Richard Lloyd, general manager, European operations and supply chain at Accolade Wines.

“We thought ‘how do we tackle electricity?’ So, we’re subleasing the land to CleanEarth, which will mean we save hundreds of thousands of pounds in the next few years.”

Subleasing land is a tactical way of saving money and investing in a long-term energy solution. The contract between the manufacturer and CleanEarth is a power purchase agreement (PPA), which means Accolade Wines can opt in or opt out of buying the power generated by the turbine, providing the firm with flexibility.

Price fix security

Richard Lloyd (L) and Akshan Jiransha at The Manufacturer MX Awards - image courtesy of TM.
Richard Lloyd (L) and Akshan Jirasinha at The Manufacturer MX Awards – image courtesy of TM.

This type of agreement enables commercial businesses to fix the price of electricity at a cheaper rate, saving them money. A growing number of large UK businesses are signing long-term power purchase agreements to ensure they can access renewable energy for years to come.

“We chose the sublease model and we buy the electricity from CleanEarth because it’s simply more cost effective,” says Jirasinha.

This is the first wind turbine at Accolade Wines, but the company is sure the potential is there to build another one.

“We are always thinking of new ideas. Before another wind turbine though, I think we will try and diversify into solar and batteries. We could put solar panels on the roof, capture this energy and then potentially store it,” says Jirasinha.