Last week Southern Solar was one of two firms to complete complicated solar rooftop installations at BAE Systems’ facility at Portsmouth Naval Base.

The two projects had a combined capacity of 500kW and form part of a concerted effort from the company to increase its environmental efficiency ahead of receiving one of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in 2017.

But working on an active military facility poses – entirely predictably – its own challenges and Southern Solar managing director Howard Johns spoke to Solar Power Portal about how the firm’s experience working on water treatment plants prepared it for installing solar in other secure environments.

How did the project with BAE Systems come about?

We had some contact with BAE and were in conversation for probably the last nine months about the project. We ended up building a 300kW system on one of their distribution sheds and for us it was a slightly challenging install. As a straight forward project we'd do that fairly regularly, but obviously it's reasonably challenging working in a secure environment such as a naval base that has complications.

What was the scope from BAE?

Because in a couple of years they'll have the new aircraft carriers based there they're looking at the entire site and how they can reduce energy consumption. One of the ways is to generate on site, so we looked at a whole range of buildings for them and then they obviously prioritised a couple to start with and went out to find providers to do those. There's potentially a whole load more buildings there to be done.

Is there any more development in the pipeline at the base?

I think there will be. They'll let these installations bed in and see how they do, but I think they are planning to do more in the future.

Was BAE concerned with aesthetics of the design at all?

You can't see the system from the ground at all as the sheds are massive. It required a nine-storey scaffold to install, which presented its own challenges and requirements.

What were the main challenges of working in such a secure environment?

We've a fairly experienced team who are used to doing complex installations. There were a few odd challenges with this project but generally they were fairly easily solved by our team. Because we work a lot for water companies we're used to working in controlled sites, and they have their own stringent requirements basically. We were able to apply some of the same methods to this project which hopefully made it go a bit smoother.

Was the base still fully operational while the installation was occurring?

Yes, totally operational all the way throughout.

And I guess that brought about its own challenges?

To be perfectly honest there weren’t so many challenges from the site being active. There's new things to consider such as the radiation hazard from radar, which isn't something we'd come across before, but even that was fairly easily mitigated in this case. All in all it was a good project for us.

How was that radiation mitigated?

The radiation was just from the ships basically. We mitigated against it and made sure we weren't working in the line of flight as it were.

Have you had any feedback from BAE since the install?

They're very happy with the system, I was actually there yesterday and they're happy with how the project has gone.