Renewable energy is coming to a supermarket near you
Posted by Cathy Debenham on 1 March 2010 at 10:31 am
"I'm just popping down to Tesco for a solar panel" doesn't sound right somehow. Maybe it's just me, but I not sure that the entry of the supermarkets into the renewable energy market is a good thing.
Sainsbury is first out of the starting gates. It opened Home Energy Centres in three of its stores (Camberley, Kidderminster and Leicester) at the end of last year in partnership with EDF Energy. They will sell solar panels, heat pumps and insulation, and EDF Energy advisors will be on hand to provide people with a free tailored energy saving plan and advice on energy efficiency. All the products can be delivered nationwide and installed by an EDF installer.
Earlier this month M&S joined forces with Scottish and Southern Energy to launch M&S Energy. Its first services are loft and cavity wall insulation with prices starting at £149. That will be followed by a range of products including bespoke energy advice, renewable energy solutions such as solar panels and heat pumps, and energy efficient heating over the coming months. It's available through M&S stores and online.
Tesco hasn't announced its renewable energy programme yet. It already has a home insulation service up and running. Enact Energy, the company that runs it, is also recruiting independent solar installers to join Tesco's and M&S's renewables programmes.
The good side to the supermarkets coming into the market is that it sends out a clear message that renewable energy is part of the mainstream. But I worry about the impact they might have on the market.
Part of my concerns are voiced by Dan Crossley, principal sustainablility advisor at Forum for the Future. "[The supermarkets'] approach has often been ... a pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap model" he says. While I'm not denying that price is important, renewable energy is so site-specific that it needs a much more tailored approach than you would traditionally expect from a mass retailer.
Another of my concerns is the impact it will have on the small businesses that make up such a large proportion of the installer market. Will they find themselves squeezed on price in the way that farmers have done? With both Tesco and M&S recruiting from a relatively small pool of MCS accredited installers, what will the market look like in a year or so? And will it give value to the consumer?
The Conservatives appear keen to encourage the big retailers to play a significant role in improving the energy efficiency of homes. David Cameron announced last year that he'd have a programme up and running from day one of a tory government, and that agreements are already in place with M&S and Tesco.
Supermarkets, while convenient, specialise in encouraging us to buy the foods that give them the biggest profits, not the ones that are healthiest or taste best. This is my worry. The right renewable energy isn't something that you can pick off the shelf. It needs careful thought and a holistic approach which takes in the specifics of each house, and how the inhabitants use it. Will this be a shift in emphasis too far for the supermarkets? Let us know what you think - especially if you've used any of the services they are offering.
Photo by didbygraham
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