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Construct ZERO

Turning vision into reality

Chris Turner, Operations Director at John A Stephens, reveals all about the journey the company has taken to become a Co2nstruct Zero Business Champion.

John A Stephens is one of the largest independent builders' merchants in the Midlands and operates from two branches in Nottingham.

The business has been established more than 50 years and prices itself on delivering great customer service with same/next day deliveries utilising one of the largest dedicated HGV delivery fleets in the industry.

As far back as 2010 John A Stephens was proactive in seeking to reduce its carbon footprint and installed 100kW of Solar PV cells on a section of warehouse roof on its main yard.

However, then Managing Director Peter Stephens' vision was to go much further and be commissioned plans to expand the solar generation capability by a factor of three.

This enabled the entire site to be at least 80% powered by self-generated, 100% renewable energy and support the transition from diesel powered yard vehicles to a 100% EV yard fleet.

The aim of the company was to become the first independent merchant to achieve Co2nstruct Zero Business Champion status.

The brief set was clear. Peter and his son Andy (the current Managing Director) wanted a minimum of 300kW of solar PV generated power, feeding an entirely new 500kW on-site energy distribution grid, providing power for up to 40 electrically powered yard vehicles.

Enhanced safety

On top of this not insignificant challenge they also wanted the entire yard-lighting replaced with High Output Low Voltage floodlighting to improve employee safety and enhance the customer experience during the winter months.

Turning this vision into reality had a considerable number of challenges that had to be overcome. Working closely with specialist solar energy system contract partner EVO Energy, there needed to be close collaboration with the DNO, Western Power Distribution to upgrade the existing 80kW mains incomer to the site to a completely new set up capable of distributing over 500kW around an eight-acre site.


This meant the installation of an entirely new substation and 1.5MW transformer as well as over 500 metres of armoured HV cable, going under a main access road and new underground cable tunnels all over the site, to be accomplished without any interruption to trading.

Completion of the project took just under 12 months from the placement of initial orders through to the installation and commissioning of the solar panels power grid and the delivery of the first EV forklift trucks.

Germany's Linde Materials Handling was chosen as the provider of EV trucks using its brand new X Series industrial counter-balanced trucks in 2.5 and 3.0 ton variants.

Excellent service

Linde was chosen as the truck partner because of the quality and robustness of its H series diesel trucks, and excellent service response, so although we did evaluate several other manufacturers EV track offerings, it felt like the natural choice to come back to Linde.

The team at Linde Jewsbury's in Castleford really bought into the project and has provided excellent support throughout the purchase and delivery phase.

The investment in the 26 new trucks and 80V rapid-chargers alone accounted for £1.4 million of the overall £2 million scheme cost.

With the 300kW Solar PV system commissioned and in operation at the end of June 2022, John A Stephens was able to take full advantage of the unusually hot weather over the summer, allowing export generation levels to exceed imported electricity by a factor of over four times.

An export agreement with renewable energy distributor Good Energy allowed the company to achieve a high export price for the first year of export generation which has significantly reduced the forecast ROI of the solar PV element of the project from nine years to three.

The reduction in the company's environmental impact is compelling, with a forecast a reduction of 1,200 tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions over 25 years. Similarly, with an estimated energy cost saving of £1.7 million over the same period, the scheme makes sound financial sense.

The company's alignment with Priority 1 of the Construct Zero Performance Framework was achieved with the arrival of the Linde X-Series Lithium ION battery powered EV trucks, and similarly powered specialist Combi-Lift C4000ET side loaders, allowing 98% of diesel plant to be eliminated from yard operations by the end of December 2022.

Looking to the future, John A Stephens's ambitions continue to be focused on further reducing its carbon footprint.

In most conditions we can now self-generate over 80% of our own power and in optimised conditions we can export almost five times purer renewable energy than our house load requirements and we have significantly reduced the carbon footprint of the business. However, for the business, this is really just the first phase of our longer-term strategy.

Decarbonised fleet

The company is also collaborating with French OEM Manitou aiming to be the first to introduce PHEV Hybrid truck mounted forklift delivery vehicles in 2023.

In terms of ongoing development of the site, John A Stephens is looking at the potential introduction of a new Battery Storage Scheme to complete the self-generation cycle.

We've run out of roof-space so we now need to find an effective way of harnessing our export power and feeding it back into the site energy grid to create a closed loop system.