Shaming The Big Guys: 5 South African Retailers Ranked For Renewable Energy Commitment

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Written by Dana Sanchez

South Africa’s five largest retail groups perform poorly when it comes to making a commitment to use renewable energy, according to environmental lobbyist Greenpeace Africa.

Woolworths, Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Massmart were ranked on four criteria–  energy transparency, commitment to renewable energy, greenhouse gas mitigation and lobbying for renewable energy. Greenpeace based results on interviews and publicly available information, BusinessDayLive reported.

None did particularly well. Woolworths scored the highest marks (4 out of 10) and rival Shoprite Group scored the lowest (zero).

Companies can help drive the market for renewable energy by making a commitment to get 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, Greenpeace Africa said.

“South African supermarkets can become a game changer for renewable energy,” according to a GreenpeaceAfrica blog. “We interact with our retail stores on a daily basis, and the retail sector represents a big part of South Africa’s energy consumption. What if this pressure could be taken off the current grid? What if they all shifted to 100 percent renewable energy?”

Almost 180,000 households could be powered annually on the energy the big retailers would save by moving to renewable sources, according to Greenpeace.

South Africa has added almost 2,000 megawatts to the grid since 2011 as it attempts to add capacity and diversify the country’s energy sector away from coal.

In 2015, South Africa moved up to 13th place from No. 15 in Ernst & Young’s latest renewable energy country attractiveness index thanks to its successful green energy procurement program, SeeNews.Renewables reported.

South Africa outperfomed Belgium, which stayed in 14th place, and replaced the Netherlands at No. 13. South Africa was also the fourth most attractive market globally for concentrated solar power (CSP) projects and No. 8 in solar photovoltaics, according to the E&Y report.

When it comes to the amount of clean energy investment in the first quarter of 2015, South Africa was the shining star with $3.1 billion US compared to almost nothing a year earlier.

South African retailers can help remove the barriers to renewable energy, Greenpeace Africa said. They need to become champions for renewable energy to open up the market and allow renewable energy investments on a broader scale.

If Woolworths sourced all its electricity from renewable sources, it would free up enough power for 55,000 households in South Africa, based on an average per-household electricity consumption of about 8,000 kilowatt-hours a year.

“Arguably it is the responsibility of all major electricity users in South Africa to reduce consumption, and produce their own electricity from renewable energy sources, thus decreasing pressure on the grid and reducing the need for load shedding,” Greenpeace said.

Woolworths scored four out of 10 on the Greenpeace ranking. Some of Woolworths’ achievements include powering about 10 percent of its headquarters energy needs from solar in 2015 and achieving 40 percent energy saving in stores compared to 2004.

Woolworths lost points because it did not provide Greenpeace Africa with a detailed plan on how it intends to achieve its commitment to 100 percent renewables by 2030.

Massmart ranked second highest, with 3.5 points, followed by Pick n Pay with three points, Spar with 1.5 and Shoprite with zero.

Woolworths and Massmart scored high for transparency, both providing detailed information on their websites about their energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Shoprite got a zero score because “they have a complete lack of transparency with regards to company energy information and have not engaged with Greenpeace Africa to provide information,” the organisation said.

How much control do large retailers have over energy sources?

Most of the large retail stores are tenants in major malls and shopping centers, where they tend to be anchors, BusinessDayLive reported.

How can they achieve 100 percent renewable energy use when someone else is paying the bills?

Since they tend to be anchor clients, large retailers can demand renewable energy options from mall developers, said Penny-Jane Cooke, Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy campaigner. Many mall owners are already investing in solar panels because it makes commercial sense.

But there was a broader issue at stake, Cooke said. It is still illegal in South Africa to feed electricity back into the grid from small-scale embedded generation sources.

Apart from some areas in the Cape Town Municipality and a few other exceptions, it is illegal in South Africa unless you want to start a solar farm with more than 1 megawatt output, according to Sinetech.

“To achieve 100 percent renewable energy, retailers need to lobby for the barriers to renewable energy to be removed — which would deal with the broader issues around Eskom’s dirty coal supply chain.

“Ultimately retailers need to become champions for renewable energy to open up the market and allow renewable energy investments on a broader scale.”


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.