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Sainsbury’s becomes greener grocer with solar roll-out

By Katie Anderson on August 8, 2012

Sainsbury’s, one of Britain’s biggest and most popular supermarkets, has laid claim to the title of operating Europe’s largest solar array.

Featuring a total capacity of 16MW, the array consists of thousands of solar photovoltaic panels, which have been installed on almost 30 per cent of Sainsbury’s stores in the UK. The supermarket estimates that the array has reduced the company’s annual carbon emissions by around 6,800 tonnes.

The Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King, stressed the importance of the supermarket’s solar ambitions, but he has refused to state exactly how much the solar panels have cost and what kind of return on investment is expected. Instead, he prefers to focus on the benefits of producing clean, renewable energy on such a large scale.

Mr King said: “This solar roll-out is another big step forward. It makes sense for us. It’s good for the environment and for our business”.

Stating that Sainsbury’s is committed to installing more solar PV panels, Mr King added: “Supermarkets have the equivalent of football fields on their roofs, many of them underutilised. It’s a perfect time to turn that space into something positive. Big contracts like this support job creation in the renewable sector and are essential for our solar industry to thrive”.

Mr King is confident that large solar installations can be profitable in time, with commercial ventures “reaching parity with the grid” within the next four years. Andrew Pendleton, of Friends of the Earth, commended the supermarket’s solar initiative, stating that companies across Britain are “waking up to the business benefits of using clean British energy from the sun, wind and waves”.

Solar-generated electricity, of course, does not only benefit the commercial sector. Thousands of households in the UK have installed solar panels, which are typically fitted at an angle on certain types of rooftop. Solar panels capture rays of sunlight before converting them into electricity, which is used to power the home and sometimes heat hot-water systems. Households can export surplus electricity to the National Grid at a fixed rate (currently 16p/kWh) under the Feed-In Tariff scheme (FITs). Solar panels can be expensive to install, but homeowners are expected to make a sizeable profit over the 20-year-period for which FITs applies.