Sainsbury's shopping for self-powering stores

Sainsbury’s could soon be providing far more than just the weekly groceries, after the supermarket giant revealed it is working on plans to establish itself as a major provider of energy to both the grid and the local communities it serves.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, Neil Sachdev, property director at the company, said Sainsbury’s was preparing to accelerate the roll out of onsite low carbon and renewable energy technologies at its stores next year.

Sainsbury’s recently opened its first store to use “geo-exchange” heat pump technology at Crayford in Kent and has already seen energy use at the store fall by 30 per cent.

Sachdev said the company was now investigating deploying the technology at a number of other stores as part of efforts to reduce the supermarket’s reliance on the grid.

“We are looking at energy security,” he said. “We know that as we get hotter summers, we will get more energy supply fluctuations in the UK. Over the next two years, we will have a team looking at how that will affect us and how we can become less dependent on the grid. We will also look at if we can ultimately become a net exporter to the grid.”

The company is already indirectly providing power to the grid through partnerships with two anaerobic digestion plants, one in Bedford and one in Leicester, which combined use food waste from Sainsbury’s stores to provide up to 8MW of power plant.

“We are now at a stage where we don’t send any food to landfill,” explained Sachdev. “All our food waste goes to two centralised waste-to-energy plants and all stores are linked up to them.”

In a similar vein, the company is building a new store in Bath that is expected to supply waste heat from the store to supply local homes – a model that Sachdev is keen to expand. “If I could have my time again, every store would also supply heat to other local buildings and homes,” he said.

Hydrogen fuel cells could also make their first appearance at a Sainsbury’s store some point next year, after initial plans to install the technology at a store in London were abandoned due to problems insuring the system.

“Hydrogen fuel cells have gone well in the US and we want to bring the technology over here,” said Sachdev. “We were close to rolling it out at a store in Greenwich, but we could not get sign off because it was difficult to get the insurance for what is a new technology. We are working with the insurance companies on it and I’m keen to revisit the technology.”

Next year is shaping up to be an important 12 months for the supermarket giant’s sustainability efforts, after Sachdev revealed that the company is working on the next phase of its environmental programme which will run between 2012 and 2020.

He said that while the company was on track to meet its target of cutting carbon emissions 25 per cent against 2005 levels by 2020, it was aware that it now needed to adopt a longer-term emissions target. “The work is being done right now and by the end of this year we will have clear sight on what we want to do by 2020,” he said. “We’ll then announce new targets in April or May next year.”

By James Murray

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