Larkfleet Ascending

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[prev] …innovation and energy efficiency. ‘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.’

‘I am good when things are difficult – I am a competitor and I rise to a challenge’

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. ‘I am good when things are difficult – I am a competitor and I rise to a challenge,’ he says. Karl’s 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 Passive-House, 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 Passive-House 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 be installed on site with minimal labour and waste, and 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. Funding has recently been secured from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board to investigate this further. ‘Ultimately, this may mean it is possible to develop housing where it is not currently viable because of potential flooding,’ adds Karl.

‘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’

Last November, Larkfleet’s Passive-House project won a Silver Accolade for its sustainable building practices in the ‘energy reduction’ sector of the prestigious national Green Apple Awards. 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 adds. ‘Wind should also be used more. People don’t seem to want it but it is one of our biggest resources in the UK. The difference may come if the lights go out and then people will say ‘why didn’t we invest in wind power’?’ 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.

Last October, Lark Energy won the inaugural Solar Power Portal award for what was at the time the UK’s largest solar farm. Wymeswold Airfield in Leicestershire – comprising some 130,000 solar panels covering 150 acres – was developed by Lark Energy and landowner Prestwold Estates. ‘There is no smoke or emissions, it is just absorbing the sunlight and turning it into clean power – and will be doing that for the next 25 years.’ His personal credentials were further enhanced recently when he joined the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) leadership programme, an opportunity for senior business leaders to develop new skills to influence their external environment, including within Government and the wider political landscape. During the programme he met civil servants and legislators in Whitehall and Westminster, European Union officials and MEPs in Brussels, and visited the US Senate in Washington. Karl learnt a great deal from the experience and has strong opinions on a range of topics. The country’s future in Europe is no exception. ‘Being part of Europe brings economic prosperity to the UK and without this we would not be doing as well as we are,’ he says. ‘The European debate concerns me a lot – we need to be in Europe and to be at the heart of it. This is the best position for the UK and the thought of leaving is ridiculous.’

‘I have eight hours sleep a night and never worry about anything’

Away from the office, Karl is a keen golfer and life-long supporter of ‘The Gunners’, travelling to as many of Arsenal’s home matches as he can. Earlier this year, along with his son Charlie, he ran the 2014 London Marathon raising over £4,500 for The Willow Foundation, one of Larkfleet’s corporate charities. Just a few weeks ago Karl was named as a regional winner of the ‘Master Entrepreneur’ category in the national Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Awards. His nomination focused on his entrepreneurial journey at Larkfleet and he is now competing against the three other regional Master Entrepreneur winners (North, Scotland and London & the South) for the national prize. So, are there any particular secrets behind his personal success? ‘Having a sympathetic partner and family is vitally important – it makes the job a lot easier,’ he acknowledges. Karl is also a great believer in valuing the judgements and recommendations of his loyal staff – and making business decisions as quickly as possible. His enthusiasm to go on talking about the tasks to hand and the challenges ahead is tempered only by the need to limit our time to a strict slot in his busy schedule. 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 sustainable development and renewable energy projects. ‘Keep fresh and healthy and you can do anything,’ he advises. ‘I have eight hours sleep a night and never worry about anything.’

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