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Retailers’ role in renewable energy

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South Africa’s top five retailers – Pick n Pay, Massmart, Spar, Woolworths and Shoprite – have a major role to play in shaping sustainable growth in the energy sector and need to champion South Africa’s transition to 100% renewable energy, according to a report from Greenpeace Africa.

The report ‘Shopping Clean – Retailers and Renewable Energy’ marks the  launch of a new Greenpeace campaign ‘Renewable Energy Champions’ initially aimed at getting the country’s top five retailers to show solar energy some love. The report outlines how retail companies in South Africa have made a start in the transition to 100% renewable energy. Most importantly, it details the current status of renewable energy investments and commitments from each of the top five retailers in South Africa. The retailers are ranked against one another on four key criteria – energy transparency, commitment to renewable energy, greenhouse gas mitigation and lobbying for clean renewable energy.

In the report, Woolworths ranks highest with an overall score of four out of 10. Woolworths and Pick n Pay currently have solar PV installations that contribute a small percentage of renewable energy to their overall operations. Massmart and Woolworths have both identified pilot solar PV projects for distribution centres and stores respectively that will be rolled out in 2016. Shoprite received the lowest ranking because of its lack of transparency with regard to the company’s energy information.

“Ranking the five retailers against one another makes it clear that none of them are doing particularly well when it comes to a commitment to a 100% renewable energy vision,” says Penny-Jane Cooke, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa. “Also, none of the retailers are engaged in active lobbying for the barriers to renewable energy to be removed, which is an essential step if a 100% vision is to be achieved, and this has heavily impacted on their scores.”

If the annual electricity consumption for each of the top five retailers is compared to the average electricity consumption of households in South Africa, Pick and Pay, for example, could liberate enough electricity to supply 65 000 households in South Africa by switching to 100% renewable energy. Woolworth’s electricity consumption is enough to power 55 000 households while Massmart could power 53 000 households. Collectively, the retailers can free up enough energy to power at least 178 400 households.

“This campaign provides an opportunity for Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Spar, Woolworths and Massmart to take the lead and show the millions of South Africans who support them that they really care about the future of this country,” says Cooke. “Renewable energy provides a real opportunity for South Africa to move away from a developmental path based on polluting coal and expensive nuclear power.  The five leading South African retailers have begun to take steps towards a renewable-powered future, but the current levels of ambition are clearly inadequate, which means that there is significant room to improve.”

By switching to a 100% renewable energy, retailers will reduce their current electricity consumption, thus decreasing pressure on the grid and reducing the need for load shedding. Possibly most importantly of all, retailers will be opening up the space for millions of South Africans to generate their own power through lobbying government for better renewable energy legislation.

“Greenpeace believes that Pick n Pay, Massmart, Spar, Woolworths and Shoprite can lead South Africa to a clean energy future by making a commitment to 100% renewable energy,” says Cooke. “They also need to articulate how they will achieve this vision in the short and long term, make the required investments and take the next step by lobbying government to remove the barriers to renewable energy for the benefit of their loyal consumers and the country.”