Solar water heater manufacturer Solar Systems Ltd, part of Bajada Group of Marsa, has installed a photovoltaic system to become the first commercial entity in Malta to obtain all its power requirements from solar energy.

The €80,000 outlay for the project was co-financed by the European Regional Development Funds schemes for enterprise and the ERDF energy schemes issued by Malta Enterprise.

The panels will save the group up to €7,000 a year in electricity bills under current rates, and the tax bill will be chopped by €5,600 for five years, after which the spend will be written off. Electricity generated by the panels will power the 800-square-metre plant's lighting, welding operations, power presses, boilers, and IT systems, with a constant output of energy as the panels are entirely non-weather dependent.

The maximum power generated by the installation at peak is 18Kw, with an annual production of around 30,000 units; CO2 emissions will be reduced by 26,000 kilos.

Group managing director Mark Bajada is ecstatic that the project has been completed and is eager to share his business 'secret'.

"It is no secret, in reality," he told The Sunday Times. "Businesses do not realise how simple and speedy the procedure to obtain funding for this type of project really is. If they did, more companies would take the step.

"I am very happy to lead by example. The entire cost of the project goes into the books for tax credit - there is a 35 per cent credit as capital allowance for all the tax computation. Most business people have not understood this either."

The group will also benefit from feed-in tariffs which are paid to owners of renewable energy systems who export surplus power into the national grid.

Mr Bajada said the relatively small investment would lead to significant cost-saving which, in turn, give the company an edge over the competition thanks to a positive impact on its products' pricing.

He heaped praise on Malta Enterprise, saying the agency was doing "a great job" by administering the funding schemes simply and effectively, and providing applicants with constant support.

Most importantly, he pointed out, the timeframe for the entire project was relatively short. The application for funding was filed in December under the second tranche of schemes falling under the ERDF Energy Grant Scheme initiative, a favourable reply was received within days, and the cheque for the 50 per cent cash grant should be in the post by May, Mr Bajada explained.

Bajada Group started out in the alternative energy business over 20 years ago, at a time when, the managing director recalled, few people believed in the concept. The firm was the first to import photovoltaic panels from France, where the newly installed panels were also sourced.

The group, which has a staff of 29 including three engineers, represents more than 15 world-leading renewable energy and solar air-conditioning brands locally, including Novotherm solar water heaters, Kaco inverters, Wes and Bergy wind turbines, Et Solar PV panels, Midea and Hisense.

It also manufactures solar water heaters for local distribution and export to nine markets, including Italy, Spain, Portugal and Libya, besides producing all related structures for PV panels, such as cradles.

The group is currently involved in the heavy marketing of a self-cleaning principle that will reduce the soiling effect on panels to allow for maximum efficiency in power generation. Dirty panels can reduce output by as much as 15 per cent.

Internationally quality certified, Bajada Group has installed PV systems, wind turbines, solar water heaters and air-conditioning units at over 12,000 homes and businesses.

Mr Bajada began to show an interest in alternative energy generation when he was barely in his 20s while still studying telecoms engineering in Malta and Switzerland. His family had a business background in the stone quarry and tourism ferry sectors but he had other ventures in mind. One day, he showed his father a block of siliscium, the raw material from which PV systems' cell-containing panels are made.

"It was the first time he clipped me round the ear," he smiled. "I tried to explain but he could not understand how a seemingly glass panel could generate energy. He was not particularly pleased when I told him I was thinking of importing PV panels."

But Mr Bajada pursued his business ambitions, and by 1994 his company installed PV panels at the University's Department of Chemistry. Mr Bajada's green credentials are top-notch: he even installed solar panels at his family home 15 years ago where water recycling measures are also in place. His minimal carbon footprint at home and at work is exemplary.

"The investment in photovoltaic systems makes so much sense, especially with this grant available to businesses," Mr Bajada stressed. "Entrepreneurs have to have foresight, particularly where their environmental obligations are concerned. Now the authorities would do well to tweak the feed-in tariff provisions. The feed-in tariff, is, after all, the prime driver for businesses to invest in alternative ways to generate energy."