Heating and powering Bata’s hometown

Tomas Bata founded his shoe empire in the Czech town of Zlín, beginning of the last century. A power station now stands in the midst of the historical industrial zone – operated by Alpiq Zlín.

Bata is a familiar name

Bata is a familiar name throughout the world. And in the Czech Republic, every child knows about the famous shoe brand’s origins in Zlín. Indeed, Bata is omnipresent in this Moravian industrial town, even though its golden age was seventy years ago.

But the story begins earlier than that, in 1894, the same year that Alpiq was founded. That was when shoe manufacturer Tomas Bata (the Czechs pronounce it "Tomasch Batja") laid the cornerstone of his business empire in Zlín, starting an operation that would go down in industrial history and at one point employ over 65,000 people around the world. Not only was Tomas Bata an astute businessman. Far-travelled and a visionary, as the mayor of Zlín his dream was nothing less than a model town for happy workers. That included features like the nearly 3,000 cubic, brick-built workers’ houses that dominate the urban landscape to this day.

Compared to people’s expectations at the time, these offered astonishing levels of comfort, space and privacy. Bata’s project had a social dimension, too. It extended to boarding schools, vocational training colleges, hospitals, sports grounds, and citylike prestige buildings such as a 2,000-seat cinema erected in 1932, which was Europe’s largest at the time.

Power station was witness of the Bata factory’s changeful history

The inhabitants strongly identify with their town’s industrial history. And also part of this industrial history is, of course, the coal-fired power station that provided independent energy supplies to the Bata factories.

A fondly maintained steam engine dating back to 1899 that once drove the early shoe-making machinery still stands in the turbine hall. “Right from the start, the power station was very much part of the Bata factory’s changeful history”, explains Josef Gaba, director of Alpiq Zlín.

A period of meteoric growth ended with the 1939 German occupation, followed by the war years, subsequent nationalisation and communist period. The collapse of communism was followed by a number of insecure “jungle years”, as Gaba puts it, before the power station was spun off as a separate business in 1991.

A US company, Cinergy, wholly acquired it seven years later. The power station has belonged to the Alpiq Group since 2005. "After a period of familiarisation on both sides, we are now working at full speed to implement our jointly-formulated, long-term strategy", says a satisfied Gaba.

Fresh activity within the factory buildings on the Bata site

One of the power station’s characteristics is that both blocks are primarily producers of heat. Indeed, some 60 percent of production goes to district heating customers: most buildings in Zlín, with a population of 80,000, are kept warm by energy from the Alpiq power station.

"That directly links our business to climatic ups and downs", says Gaba. Energy efficiency also impacts the heating business. Thermal insulation has been upgraded in many buildings. New windows, along with insulated façades and roofs, lower the energy requirement. 69 megawatts of power generation capacity accounts for around one-third of business volume. Alpiq Zlín makes the remaining ten percent from supplies of drinking water, gas and compressed air. Gaba sees most potential in expanding power generation capacity.

"Consumption continues to go up, and prices will eventually rise in the Czech Republic, too", of that the man in charge of the station is convinced. At all events, Zlín is ready for further growth. Almost all shoe manufacturing has relocated to low-wage countries, but that painful structural change has stimulated fresh activity within the factory buildings on the Bata site. Over 60 companies provide around 3,500 jobs there, in fields from industrial production, through university institutes, to modern-day service industry.

It is still a far cry from the dynamism of the 1920s and 30s, but, says Gaba, "we can be sure that our location provides every facility for further growth – not least, its own power station…".