Retailers could become local energy hubs

Sensemaking / Retailers could become local energy hubs

09 Feb 2011

A Waitrose biomass plant on the Isle of Wight could supply heat to local houses

A supermarket which has been designed to go ‘off-grid’ may also offer a glimpse into a future where retail outlets act as local energy hubs.

A Waitrose store in the Isle of Wight in southern England is due to open a biomass power plant later this year. Fuelled by locally sourced woodchips, it will supply the store’s electricity, cooling and heating needs. And it’s been designed with extra capacity, so as to have the potential to supply heat to local housing.

Energy efficiency measures and onsite renewable technologies are becoming increasingly common in supermarkets. A biomass boiler has enabled Sainsbury’s to add an extension to its Durham store while reducing the outlet’s overall carbon emissions. A biofuel generator at Tesco’s zero carbon store in Cambridgeshire (see 'Interview with Terry Leahy')exports excess energy back to the grid. Paul van Heyningen, Tesco Climate Change Manager, said that such flagship developments were especially important to trial new technologies before incorporating them to stores elsewhere.

Decentralised power generation improves energy security, but it is the prospect of a supermarket helping to power the community that makes the Waitrose project “an exciting place to be”, says Martin Hunt, Head of Built Environment at Forum for the Future. Renewable technologies are important, he says, “but you can have a much more powerful impact if it becomes part of the community infrastructure”.

Planning and design issues, rather than technical ones, are often the main hurdle to overcome, Hunt adds. So practical examples which work will all help build confidence in the wider prospects of such local energy hubs.

- Nick Chan

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