Under the spotlight: Commercial PV hitting the right notes at solar-powered recording studio

London, for all its potential, has yet to fully embrace rooftop solar much to the disdain of environmentalists and industry commentators.

Recent figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change last month showed that there were just 600 commercial or industrial systems installed across the capital despite the ample roof space. The total solar capacity in London stood at 52MW as of 31 May, predominantly from domestic installations.

While it may be true that London doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to current solar business models – the rented nature of the majority of London’s commercial and industrial estate has complicated matters – one independent recording studio in Hackney has bucked that trend.

The Premises Studio started life around 30 years ago, developed by two local jazz musicians as a means of providing an alternative recording space to London’s more established, and costly, studios. In 1998 the studios expanded to incorporate a neighbouring building which, seven years later, would become the UK’s first solar-powered studio.

Studio A as it is now known was formally completed in 2007, but the building’s solar installation was actually completed two years prior in 2005, pre-dating both the feed-in tariff and the solar rooftop installation upon the London Mayor’s office on Southbank. Premises Studio can lay claim to being one of the early pioneers of London solar, and it’s a claim the studio holds proudly.

Eighteen 200W panels make up the 3.6kWp system fitted by Chelsfield Solar and, despite being fitted more than 10 years ago, the panels are entirely black, far from the polycrystalline blue norm that the vast majority of solar installations comprised in solar’s early days.

Julia Craik, managing director of Premises Studio, says the business has yet to have a single issue with the panels and that they have consistently helped the business meet its energy demand. Over the course of a year the system ensures the studio more than breaks even, producing far more than it uses during summer months to ensure a complementary revenue streak from the export Feed-in Tariff. Low-energy air conditioning units are used to keep energy demand low, while the studio’s beehive – set to return in the coming weeks following more construction work – completes what can still lay claim to being one of Europe’s most energy efficient recording facilities.

Premises is a case study in what solar generation is all about. The unassuming installation takes up roof space that otherwise would’ve remained unused and provides ample power for its actions.

In recent years its efforts have been endorsed by pop stars like Lily Allen, whose support of the studio’s green initiatives brought it greater publicity. Premises now offers artists recording there the opportunity to boast that their album or single was produced on a carbon-free basis, something which indie band The Klaxons have said is a “great example” of how artists can tackle their carbon footprint.

It’s what tempted the Solar Trade Association into recording its Solar Independence Day anthem Catch the Sun (Go Solar) – written by the studio’s resident artist Ben Williams – at Premises and the track will now be the United Nations Convention on Climate Change’s climate song of the week next week.

The site has also earned the admirations of Labour MP and London Mayor candidate Gareth Thomas, who visited the site yesterday to gain a deeper understanding of what can be achieved with solar in the capital and the importance of providing the right policy framework in order to boost London’s current underwhelming roll-out. A petition calling on the UK to follow France’s lead and pass legislation making it a requirement that all new buildings implement solar or green roofs has subsequently earned Thomas’ support.

Climate change is already hot on the agenda of some candidates, particularly given the likelihood of a third runway being constructed at London’s Heathrow airport. Labour’s Diane Abbott has already made climate action a central part of her own run for the mayoralty and the strong favourite for the Conservative nomination Zac Goldsmith is a long-time supporter of the green movement.

With legal complications beginning to resolve themselves and London’s major property owners now showing the first signs of opening up to solar’s rich benefits, now could be the perfect time for the capital to embrace a solar revolution. If the city requires any further inspiration, it need look no further than Premises Studio which continues to generate just as much as its own power as it does music.