Cookes wins �3.6m solar contract

A Norwich electrical firm has won a �3.6m contract to install solar panels on hundreds of south Norfolk homes owned by a housing trust.

Cookes Renewables, based on the Sweet Briar Road Industrial Estate, will fit the devices to about 500 buildings and claims that the project will see its turnover triple over the coming year.

The firm was formed in August last year as a joint venture between Cookes Heating and Anglia Electrical, both also based at Sweet Briar, to capitalise on increasing demand for solar panels and wind turbines.

It currently has 21 full time staff and hopes to hire between 14 and 18 more, both directly and as subcontractors, to help it fulfil the contract.

In the firm's first year it turned over just over �1m, while Cookes Heating brought in �700,000.

But it is hoped that with the new work the firms will see a combined turnover of up to �5m.

All three firms now employ a single accounting team and post joint results to cut down on costs.

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Cookes Renewables director Scott Newton said that since the contract was awarded they have been making preparations for the extra work.

'We've formed new offices and we've taken more office staff on. We're now looking for a project manager,' he said.

'We've upgraded all the computer systems.

'We've had to finance it, which is now in place, so all systems are go.

'Lots and lots of planning has gone into it.'

Saffron Housing Trust, which owns the homes, is investing a total of �7m in the project.

It will see the installation of panels on 1,000 of its 4,600 houses.

Cookes Renewables will provide and fit half of the devices, with Nottingham-based Avonside Renewables covering the remaining homes.

Work is expected to begin this month and the trust claims tenants' rents will not be affected although they will see lower energy bills.

The project will take advantage of the government's feed-in tariffs to generate income by sending excess power to the national grid.

Mr Newton added that the firm was keen to continue growing the part of the business fitting panels for private customers and not focus entirely on public sector contracts, which could quickly come to an end.

The average private installation costs �11,000 and the firm has seven to complete in the next fortnight alone.

Cookes Heating also continues to employ 11 full time staff and intends to continue growing its boiler servicing business this year.