Dragons' Den stars plough their cash into solar energy

PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:54 20 February 2013

Dragons' Den stars plough their cash into solar energy

Dragons' Den stars plough their cash into solar energy

A Yorkshire businessman wins £120,000 backing after pitching his ideas on television

Chris Hopkins, the managing director of Huddersfield-based solar company Ploughcroft, stepped into televisions Dragons Den and came out with 120,000 investment in return for a 25 per cent stake in his company.

New partners in the business are Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis. Apart from their excellent reputation in the world of business, Deborah and Theo are trusted household names, said Chris.

This was very important to me, as I want Ploughcroft to grow to become the household name of choice for solar and renewable energy installations. Were one of the leading solar installers in the UK and I want our name to be synonymous with solar, just like big brand names are with other household industries.

Ploughcroft is having its most successful year yet, with year-on-year sales for 2011 already up 100 per cent and bookings for its training courses are increasing month on month. Chris added: Weve had a fantastic year so far. Growing demand for our services and training courses has meant we have needed to bring on board 10 team members and open new training
centres in Manchester and Stoke to support our UK expansion plans.

We intend to open two more renewable energy training centres in the next few months, one of which will be in the south of England, giving us an entirely new geographical market. We want to help the renewable energy industry reach the governments 2020 targets, and to enable this to happen the UK needs installers with more skills. All Ploughcrofts courses provide real life experience and can be used to help installers achieve the essential MCS accreditation.

To keep at the top of his field, Chris is constantly developing new training courses which embrace emerging technologies in the renewable energy sector. He says he isnt satisfied with just running a successful business and training centre but wants to share his knowledge with as many people
as possible.

Solar energy is again in the limelight with new government legislation which reduces the feed-in tariff for large solar PV installations over 50kW. Chris is keen to ensure UK homeowners benefit most from the government scheme.

He added: The purpose of the feed-in tariff for solar technology is to encourage homeowners, fuel-poor community projects and small commercial property owners to generate their own electricity during the day and export any excess to the grid. Conversely, large investors from
overseas were seeing this as a route into the UK market and siphoning funds intended for the UK homeowner. I am pleased a step has been taken to stop this.

Chriss views on supposedly free solar schemes also won the interest of the Dragons. As more solar companies emerge, saturating the market,
homeowners need to be aware of what they are being offered. Rent-a-roof or free schemes often come with complicated legal contracts, some saying permission is needed to even sell or rent your home.

And the return on investment is a lot lower than purchasing a solar PV system outright. On a typical 4kW system you could be missing out as much as 23,000 from the Feed-In-Tariff over the 25 years rental period.

This is why it is much better to pay upfront for your solar PV system. Chriss latest project is his Eco Roof Visitors Centre which is now a key green community hub in the centre of Brighouse. The centre is the only one of its kind in the region and is open to building industry professionals, homeowners, students and environmentalists who are interested in finding out more about solar photovoltaic and thermal installations as well as other renewable energies.

Do you have experience of generating your own electricity? We would like to hear from you. Email feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk

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