Thursday, 21 August 2014
Building for the future
A positive and infectious energy surrounds Karl Hick. He's a potent mix of athlete, scientist, accountant and developer. And the list of nine companies on his business card seemingly leaves no stone unturned.
With an award-winning home builder to head up, not to mention a timber frame firm, a healthcare and retirement homes specialist, an energy company, a waste company, a renewables firm, and two product supply companies, this is a man with an insatiable appetite for business.
He's been at the helm of the hugely successful Larkfleet Group for a dozen years now, running a growing portfolio of interconnected companies that are steadily setting new national benchmarks in home construction and renewable energy.
Larkfleet - based in Bourne, South Lincolnshire - specialises in building energy-efficient housing and investing in research and development of innovative new building designs, materials and construction methods.
The company is also a major developer of sustainable energy projects, as well as being a provider of energy-efficiency improvements for new and existing buildings.
"From the outset I wanted it to be a different company - built around a sustainability ethos," he says.
"At the time this was a unique proposition in the industry and others were not interested in such a long term approach."
Larkfleet was initially focused entirely on house building and but recognising the opportunity for diversification, the scope was quickly expanded to embrace developing more energy-efficient and sustainable homes, and renewable technologies.
"I can't put the world right but I can do my little bit to help the green industry and make it a commercial success," he says.
Larkfleet - one of the few builders to offer solar panels on new homes as standard - has now built more than 2,500 homes, developed some of the country's biggest solar energy parks and is exploring renewable technologies in waste and power.
Typical of the latter is a new research project to generate ‘carbon-free' electricity via an experimental solar power system installed on land at the Bourne headquarters.
Its panels focus the sun's rays onto water-filled metal tubes and the energy generated can be harnessed to heat water or produce steam to drive a generator for electricity.
The panels are mounted on a rig which rotates to track the movement of the sun through the sky.
Karl hopes that such a system - which is attracting worldwide interest - can be integrated into traditional power stations.
"The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so fossil fuel would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand," he says.
"This is very much a long-term project - we will trial the technology fully over the next couple of years before coming to any conclusions about its future potential."
The solar steam initiative is very much a product of his enquiring mind and science background.
In his younger days Karl was also an accomplished athlete and it is the competitive edge from his achievements on the track that he brings to the business world.
His pioneering spirit can also be seen behind the development of two prototype homes alongside the company offices - a Green Deal Eco House and a new PassiveHouse, a test home using new materials and construction methods.
The Green Deal Eco House demonstrates how buildings can incorporate both Green Deal and ECO-funded energy saving measures in housing and commercial buildings.
Larkfleet's PassiveHouse shows how lightweight pultruded glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) composite beams and panels could revolutionise the way in which future homes are built.
The house is designed to be ‘factory built' using mass-produced modular components that can easily installed on site with minimal labour and waste, all much quicker than a traditionally built house.
Its light weight also offers the potential for building such homes on foundations that would rise in response to flooding.
Another aspect of Larkfleet's sustainable energy business is developing large photovoltaic solar farms, adding solar panels to new and existing buildings, and refurbishing existing homes to reduce their carbon footprint, energy use and energy costs.
"The reason solar works so well in the UK is because you need a combination of sun and relatively cool temperatures for optimum energy output," explains Karl.
He describes it as a "very simple technology" but one that still needs government support in order to make it practical to deliver.
"We can do a lot more with solar energy generation in this country and it is something I think should be developed and supported more," he says.
Karl believes that if the subsidies given to the nation's nuclear power industry were matched for renewables the country would be in a very different situation.
"Thirty per cent of our energy could come from solar and it would be much cheaper, cleaner and simpler than nuclear," he says.
The scientist who became one of the country's most innovative developers has created a company of our time - a true leader when it comes to home building, sustainable development and renewable energy projects.
The above is adapted from Larkfleet Ascending - an article written by Clive Simpson for The Business Moment magazine.