Solar energy successes at SPAR South Africa

October 15, 2020 IN THE CATEGORY: Climate, Responsible retailing

At SPAR, we are continuously looking to integrate sustainable solutions in our operations, with partners exploring ways to minimise CO2 emissions, energy consumption, and waste. The solar plant project at SPAR South Africa’s distribution centres (DCs) offers a prime example of the successful incorporation of sustainable, energy-efficient technologies.

As SPAR continues to grow, so does our potential impact on the environment. Across the globe, SPAR Partners are adopting energy-saving equipment in their logistics operations and at store and DC level, ranging from innovative refrigeration and lighting solutions to solar panel installations.

The supply chain is at the heart of the retail industry. As a global retail business with a critical role to play in reducing the impact of CO2 emissions and energy consumption, SPAR is adapting its operations while still providing our customers with the excellent service and quality they expect.

Solid partnership
While exploring ways to improve energy efficiency, SPAR South Africa started looking at solar energy for two reasons: the abundance of sunlight in the country and significant energy price increases. Like all other renewable energies, solar energy is clean, safe, and environmentally friendly. It creates no emissions and lends itself to a number of potential uses.

According to data from the South African Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Energy, most areas in South Africa average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, and record average solar-radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m² in one day. Moreover, the nation’s annual 24-hour global solar radiation average is reportedly about 220W/m², compared with about 100W/m² for Europe and the UK.

In 2017, SPAR initiated a partnership with turnkey energy engineering solution provider Terra Firma. Following a thorough assessment of the conditions surrounding SPAR’s DCs, an extensive solar plant was constructed on the roof of South Rand DC – SPAR South Africa’s first and largest DC.

The solar panels installed at the South Rand DC in October 2017 had a significant impact on electricity use, resulting in a decrease of municipal electricity usage from 8.512MWh to 7.542MWh during 2018.

A return on investment in the plant was achieved after the first year, prompting an extension of the solar project to more DCs across SPAR’s network. All six SPAR DCs in South Africa now have operational solar plants.

As part of the collaboration, Terra Firma forecasts the power generation on an annual basis, providing a guarantee for the total energy savings each SPAR DC can achieve. The company also manages the maintenance and upkeep of the solar panels, ensuring these continue operating at optimal capacity.

Data-driven approach
The positioning of the solar plants follows an engineering-based approach, with radiation predictions and actual output compared on a month-by-month basis.

Depending on the radiation levels, the solar plants help SPAR South Africa to stay off the grid during the daytime for up to 90%. A live monitoring system allows insight into the solar plants’ performance at any time of the day.

Beyond the strong sustainability incentives, the solar plants allow SPAR South Africa to reduce its reliance on the power grid and reduce its annual electricity costs. With an average payback period ranging between three and six years per DC, the solar panels are also a sound investment from a long-term financial perspective.

Following the rapid successes achieved in using solar systems at its DCs, SPAR South Africa is now also exploring options to implement solar-generated energy in other parts of the business, including at a store level.

To read the rest of the article, first published in our quarterly magazine Contact International, click here.