Kugler Bimetal is one of the last foundries in Europe and exports 80% of its parts made of bronze and steel. A major energy consumer, this Geneva-based company has just installed 830 photovoltaic panels on its roof and now uses the electricity it produces. A project carried out with the Foundation for industrial land in Geneva (Fondation pour les terrains industriels de Genève - FTI) that is part of a broader industrial ecology framework. Genie.ch interviewed Jérôme Chanton, general manager of this company that employs 70 people.
Flashback to 2014, when Kugler Bimetal, in financial difficulties, sold its building to the FTI. With the capital obtained, the company bought new, more efficient machines, allowing it to save a substantial amount of space. The FTI was then able to rent the free space to other companies. This operation made it possible to make better use of the surface area and rationalize infrastructure. It was also the starting point for other projects that are part of an industrial ecology initiative, including the 1,500 square metres of photovoltaic roofing that was inaugurated this autumn.
What was the thinking behind fitting these 830 solar panels?
Jérôme Chanton: Our roof needed renovating, and while we were thinking about the project before starting work, it was decided to take advantage of this renovation to fit solar panels. There are generally two considerations behind what we do: efficiency and preserving our planet’s resources. Thus, any cost-reduction initiative is welcome for us, manufacturing in Switzerland, and these panels help to reduce our electricity bill a little. This installation is also part of our Environmental Management System, which has set itself the targets of reducing CO2 emissions and improving energy efficiency.
How much of your energy consumption is covered in this way?
J.C. About 10% of our annual consumption, but in our sector, we can’t only think in terms of an average. We also have to think about power, because depending on our activities, we can suddenly need a lot of power. Our consumption is very cyclical, with sharp peaks. The idea with solar energy is to reduce our consumption base.
What points should a company wanting to install photovoltaic panels consider?
J.C. The layout of the building is essential. If it has a large flat surface with no surrounding buildings putting it in the shade, it makes sense to install some.
Have you taken other action to reduce your energy consumption or are you considering others?
J.C. Every day, we work on how to improve financial and energy productivity. If we take less time to manufacture a part, we use less energy! We are also going to change our furnaces. They will be more modern and also be more energy efficient, allowing better temperature adjustment and providing much better insulation to prevent heat loss. Finally, our efforts are also focused on improving production flows to make them more fluid. Since you don’t switch a furnace off for 30 minutes, hot furnaces should not be left empty.
The economic model
The FTI, who owns the building, paid for the installation costs (CHF 350,000) and is now selling the electricity back to Kugler Bimetal. Depending on the amount of sunshine, its costs should be amortised in 7 to 8 years, according to calculations by the Geneva-based company Eger Energy, which carried out the preliminary study and the photovoltaic installation. It should be noted that to optimize their performance, Eger Energy chose panels that operate independently of each other.
It should also be remembered that by fitting photovoltaic panels or, more generally, investing in equipment that improves the energy balance of their buildings, companies can apply for subsidies from the canton.
Interview and text by Aline Yazgi for the Genie.ch team
Photos: Jérôme Chanton and photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Kugler Bimetal foundry