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S-Group retail giant eyes role as Finland’s largest solar energy producer

The Finnish government is expected to support 20 percent of an eight million-euro project that will see the food retail duopolist install rooftop 40,000 solar units at stores and service stations.

Aurinkopaneeleja Palokan yhtenäiskoulun katolla.
S-Group plans to install some 40,000 rooftop solar panels at stores and service stations. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

The retail giant S-Group is planning a massive rooftop solar energy project that will make it the largest solar energy producer in Finland and one of the largest in the Nordics.

The food retail duopolist plans to install solar panels on the rooftops of its all of its retail outlets and petrol stations across the country.

Finnish energy giant Fortum will be responsible for implementing the project, while the state has pledged to foot 20 percent of the eight-million-euro price tag – some 1.6 million euros.

“We are looking at delivering the largest roof-installed solar energy system in the Nordics,” declared Fortum development manager Tatu Kulla.

According to Kulla electricity generated by solar panels could already be cheaper than power purchased from the grid. He said that S-Group will not be the only player in the project, but noted that different sized projects will be led by other companies.

Academic: Bigger focus on responsibility

Fortum will install a total of nearly 40,000 rooftop solar panels at retail stores and service stations over a one-year period. The retail group has set new climate targets that require it to work with business partners to reduce carbon emissions by one million tonnes by 2030.

The reduction is the equivalent of roughly eight million trips by car between Rovaniemi and Helsinki. Helsinki University Professor of World Politics, Teivo Teivainen commented that firms have begun to better understand the importance of corporate responsibility than in previous years.

“The impact of climate change is serious and of course it is good that corporations have begun to pay closer attention to their operations in this area,” Teivainen said.

“It is difficult to assess the price or overall impact of a project that is part of or supports the core business,” the academic added.

S-Group: Big potential in solar

According to Teivainen, Finnish companies are increasingly integrating corporate responsibility programmes as part of their business operations, rather than a charity programme.

“The pressure on companies involved in production activities to create a responsibility brand is naturally lower than in firms that deal directly with consumers,” the university professor noted.

S-Group has estimated that by 2025 as much as 80 percent of its electricity will be produced by renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources currently account for roughly 60 percent of its electricity. The majority of electricity consumed by the retail group comes from wind power, but the firm said that solar energy is full of potential.

“Our outlets use electricity especially in summer, when we need more power for cold storage units and freezers. During the sunny summer days, all of the electricity used by our properties could come from the sun,” said S-Group CEO Mikko Halonen.

Solar still minimal in Finland

The chief executive predicted that solar energy could account for some 10 percent of the electricity used by group properties per year.

“Electricity costs would shrink by about half a million euros annually,” Halonen added.

Solar energy production in Finland is still relatively minimal. In 2017, solar energy production was around 35 MW. The S-Group project would add another 10 MW or so.

Back in 2012, the group decided to exit the planned Fennovoima nuclear power plant slated for Pyhäjoki in western Finland. However it has so far failed to offload its stake in the SF power consortium, a majority shareholder in Fennovoima.

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