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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


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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6 comments - read them below or add one

Jayhawk International Ltd

Jayhawk International LtdComment left on: 20 March 2010 at 2:09 pm

Very Interesting comments regarding Tesco and M&S getting into the Solar PV business, which I have avoided due to the fact PV panels are sold per watt, which leaves the buying of these to the very big companies with deep pockets which will kill off the small supplier and installer, unless like my company, they innovate and move out of what will become a industry standard with very few parts to go wrong except the grid tie inverter.

Its always been my business direction since 1992, to focus more and more on the huge benifits solar thermal can provide when designed into the central heating system, but not as we have in millions of homes and offices today.

This is one area of the two solar technologies that none of the supermarkets will put there toe into, as its not as simple as solar PV.

What we in the small business sector of solar heating have to do is club togeather to fight off the gas boiler manufacturing industry who in affect are similer to the supermarkets looking for the next big oppotunity to increase sales.

What puts solar thermal central heating way ahead in pay back terms and return on investment is the greater efficencies of our tube heat pipe collectors compared to flat panels, thermal or PV, PV being only 16% hence the huge roof area needed to make PV viable.

This for our small enterprise when the complete system is sourced from us, no gas boiler manufacture can follow, as they have to go through plumbers merchants who are known to only stock and sell what is in demand.

Interesting times ahead.

Anybody reading this comment and wants to crunch some of my numbers and see what we are doing in 2011, contact me on

Eric Hawkins (designer)

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Barry Nutley

Barry Nutley from Viridis Energie ConsultantsComment left on: 9 March 2010 at 11:26 pm

Whilst I'm sure that the Supermarkets will only use quality products etc.. but the whole idea of them entering another "market" is yet another worry for both small businesses and indeed the consumer!

We all know that these organisations will be able to undercut everyone else, which appears to be good for the consumer? But, let's take Sainsbury's as an example:

They have linked up with EDF, who will supply and fit the technologies. I'm guessing that somewhere in the contract (especially with solar PV), the consumer would be tied into a contract with EDF for supply of their utilities??? Would this be good for the consumer in the long term??

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AnonymousComment left on: 9 March 2010 at 2:14 pm

I am the CEO of Enact Energy, we manage both the Tesco and M&S insulation and renewable energy programmes so thought it was worth commenting on the interesting article above. 

Enact has been around since 1996 and was first and foremost an energy consultancy with a good understanding of energy efficiency and renewable energy technology.  The projects we have launched on behalf of Tesco and M&S use high quality products and we ensure that our installers work to the highest possible standards both in terms of specification and health and safety.  All products come with a minimum 10 years parts and labour guarantee, backed by the trusted brand of two of the UK's largest retailers.

Whilst I understand some of the concerns voiced here I would like to reassure readers that both Tesco and M&S only want the best for their customers and to help raise the profile of solar systems generally which I hope will in turn lead to a bigger market for all installers involved.  I can assure the person from Eco Environments that we do not use hard sell tactics and that our advice will be honest and based on fact.

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Barry Nutley

Barry Nutley from Viridis Energie ConsultantsComment left on: 8 March 2010 at 11:23 pm

I'm with Eco Environments on this one..  Supermarkets have their place, but renewable energy technologies isn't one of them....Yet....The industry is still a relatively complex one for most people, unlike a TV, for example, where you get the same results regardless of where it is. Renewable energy technologies performance differs from property to property, and until the "average Joe, or Joanne" fully understands this, then they will need specialist advice? Have the Supermarkets this capability yet?

Supermarkets rely on volume sales, their returns volume is higher (as a percentage) than most specialist dealers, but they are very good at dealing with it, and ultimately it probably doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things?

Touching on Alistair's point about them getting it right. True, they do get it right a lot of the time, but in time... Their respective forays into electricals weren't that great at the beginning (in my 20 years in the industry I was privvy to some horrific figures), even now it's not that great, but they get away with it as the products are so cheap and we have a "throw away" mentality in todays society.

I think that in time, supermarkets may have a place in the industry, but not yet???

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Eco Environments Ltd

Eco Environments LtdComment left on: 6 March 2010 at 8:06 pm

I have reservations, we have been contacted recently (as MCS accredited installers) by the agents of Tesco, as well as other big companies, double glazing types. Uniformly they want to know the cheapest panels we supply, the cheapest installation costs, the cheapest everything. Now I'm all for the reduction in costs of renewables, we doing our bit on that front. But the maxim you get what you pay for holds, if you want quality product and quality service it costs more than poor product and service. An MCS installer should (as we do) provide expert, honest advise and options for what best suits your property.  These guys will be employing salesman that will do and say anything to close a deal. Buyer beware!

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AlistairComment left on: 1 March 2010 at 11:18 am

I think this is a great idea, i know supermarkets have a reputation for piling high selling cheap BUT they also have a reputation for getting it right, look at there foray into electricals and home products.  Broadening availability can only help the consumer with more choice, i am all for it....

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