Q&A: Solarcentury’s Chris Banks on how COVID-19 is affecting solar

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As the COVID-19 lockdown continues in the UK, solar companies are implementing contingency plans, to protect their workforces and their businesses.

Solar Power Portal recently caught up with Solarcentury UK business development manager Chris Banks, about how the pandemic has affected its operations, the status of key workers in the solar sector and the long term impact.

 

How has COVID-19 affected Solarcentury so far?

It's like every industry in the UK; we've had to take the necessary precautions of keeping staff safe and so offices are locked down and we're working at home. A fair amount of my job is going out meeting with landowners, meeting communities, meeting stakeholders and so that's certainly put on hold, but we're finding alternative ways of doing that.

The development work has slowed to some degree, albeit I am having interesting conversations with my communications colleagues about how we can get the same messages out and making sure people don't feel like they haven't got access to information. So that has been a test of our imagination.

In terms of Solarcentury around the world, we have scrutinised our activities. Where we can maintain safety and where local government guidance allows, construction sites have stayed open. We have changed our working procedures to make best use of the large, open air spaces that our teams work in. Welfare facilities have been expanded to allow for separation of workers on site, while communal areas have been closed to prevent group gatherings. Delivery drivers are segregated from the usual workforce and the presence of new contractors on site is being minimised. Sanitation materials are being provided, cleaning has increased and outdoor toolbox talks have allowed us to ensure everyone is aware of how to stay safe and what to do if they feel ill. Any activity that requires team members working in close proximity has been delayed.

 

Are there any particular challenges in those construction sites with the logistics or getting the parts that you need?

No. We haven't seen really any problems with a supply chain that's affected us. In these particular ones, we're at a suitable level where a lot of material was shipped before restrictions were in place so we've been able to suitably manage that. Supply from China is totally back to normal.

 

In the long term, do you think the pandemic will have an impact on the UK solar industry?

I don't think so. There's obviously a lot of work to be done once we've moved beyond the peak of this, rebuilding industries which have been heavily affected. The solar industry is providing for our electrical needs and this need is going to continue to be there. The climate change emergency, which renewables as a whole are working to address, is on a longer timescale and that need is only going to grow.  Renewables will very quickly get back on track once we are past the emergency we're facing just at the minute with COVID.

 

How are you finding the definitions of key workers and how it applies to solar sector workers?

Our O&M team are classified as key workers and are therefore active in maintaining sites. Social distancing is maintained, and PPE is provided as a matter of course. Any work on sites where our people have increased risk of exposure to the wider population - like commercial rooftops - is limited only to critical tasks, and even then, only by strictly adhering to social distancing and hygiene protocols.