Colruyt Group’s approach to energy
Energy, and why it’s so important
We can’t imagine life without energy today. Our Western society relies on energy for electric current, heating, cooling, transport ... What really matters in the energy story is in fact where it comes from. Energy sources can be renewable or non-renewable.
Coal, natural gas, petroleum, petrol and diesel are examples of classic, non-renewable fossil fuels. When these are burned, CO₂ is released into the atmosphere. These emissions strongly contribute to climate change. A nuclear power plant which uses uranium as fuel does not produce any CO₂ emissions, but it does generate radioactive waste.
On the other hand, sustainable, renewable energy sources like wind, sun, water, geothermal energy, biomass and green hydrogen cause no air pollution and low CO₂ emissions. Moreover, this energy never runs out and is therefore more future-oriented.
What are we currently doing?
As a major retailer, our energy consumption is quite high. That is why we want to make responsible and sustainable use of it. Our energy policy consists of three principles:
- We are strongly committed to the reduction and prevention of our energy consumption. Indeed, the most sustainable energy is energy you don’t consume. We also aim for an optimal balance between energy consumption and production.
- We make a conscious choice for sustainable, renewable energy. With our investments in renewable energy production, we cover our total energy consumption.
- We make use of residual flows, so that no energy is lost. In various Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet stores, for example, we recover the residual heat from the cooling systems and use it for heating.
Reducing our energy consumption
In 2019, we consumed 8.7 % less energy than in base year 2009, in relation to revenue figures. In 2020, we continued on this course and will continue to do so in the coming years. To continue reducing our relative energy consumption, we prepared an energy reduction plan in which we follow four different paths:
- Infrastructure: if we build a new store, good isolation is obviously a standard requirement. Older stores and buildings we own are given an energy-saving renovation. We add isolation and make them more airtight to achieve low-energy buildings.
- Heating: Colruyt Group goes for fossil fuel-free stores, i.e. without oil or natural gas heating. In exchange, we use heat recovery, heat pumps and green electricity. This avoids 99 % of the CO₂ emissions compared to a store that uses a conventional boiler.
- Lighting: we roll out LED lighting in all our stores, buildings and car parks. Where possible, we install motion detectors that automatically switch the light on and off.
- Mobility: we focus on reducing fuel consumption and switching to renewable fuels. Both for the transport of our goods, customers and employees.
In addition to these four major paths, we are also raising awareness among employees to deal with small losses: defrosting freezers on time, switching off the lights, turning the heating down one degree ... If each of our 30,000 employees pays attention to this, it makes a big difference in energy consumption.
Simultaneously producing and consuming green energy
Our energy consumption is aligned with green energy production. Wherever possible, consumption is shifted to moments with a lot of sun or wind, when electricity production is high. This is a way to reduce overproduction of energy and contribute to greater grid stability. At our central sites with a wind turbine, we are now 70 % successful in simultaneously producing and consuming green energy. How do we do this?
- A self-developed platform for data analysis connects our energy consumption with the current market prices for energy, predicted energy prices, weather data, user parameters and all kinds of technical preconditions. On this basis, the system automatically controls various installations in our central buildings.
- We also mapped out which devices we can turn off, how often and for how long. This allows us to deal smartly with non-essential consumption such as air conditioning, cooling and ventilation.
- We charge the electric vehicles and pallet trucks in our distribution centres at night, when there is less demand, while the wind turbines are still operating.
- When there is a surplus of renewable energy, we lower the temperatures of the freezer units in our distributions centres. This helps us during times when there is less energy available.
- We also mainly produce liquid ice at times when energy consumption is low.
- In the event of overproduction of solar and wind energy, we can convert the excess current into hydrogen via electrolysis. This hydrogen can be used as a fuel. And when there is a shortage of green electricity, we convert the hydrogen back into electricity. All this without CO₂ and particulate matter emissions. We have been doing this at our Dassenveld distribution centre in Halle since 2012.
Investing in renewable energy
Colruyt Group is a pioneer in green energy production in Belgium. Our motto is: “Let's just try it, gain experience and create a network.” And that is how we keep making progress. Our entire organisation is immersed with this belief and energy.
In recent decades we have invested millions of euros in the production of solar and wind energy. Result: with our investments in renewable energy, we cover 100 % of our energy consumption!
Every new Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet store gets solar panels. Today we already have 79 solar installations on our stores and central buildings. This represents an annual production of 7,550 MWh of green energy.
Before we install solar panels, we analyse how much energy the building in question needs. The electricity consumed on site is the most cost-efficient. That is why we don’t install more solar panels than we need to cover the site’s energy needs. Solar panels mainly produce energy during the day, when our stores are open and therefore the demand for electricity in our stores is the highest. On sunny days, the stores can run almost entirely on solar energy. By maximising energy production in line with consumption, we also avoid having to transport energy surpluses over the electricity grid.
Over the years, we have established our own network of 14 onshore wind turbines, spread across Flanders and Wallonia. And through Parkwind, we have invested in 200 offshore wind turbines in the Belgian wind farms Belwind, Northwind, Nobelwind and Northwester 2.
At the end of 2019, we joined all our wind energy efforts in Virya Energy. Virya Energy takes a 360° approach to the financing, development and construction, as well as the operation of wind farms and R&D projects. With Virya Energy, we want to create economies of scale, increase our technological know-how and further expand production capacity – also internationally.
Colruyt Group is the largest investor in Virya Energy and works with other investors to accomplish and accelerate these goals. We are convinced that making the energy market sustainable and combating climate change is a challenge that we must tackle together, as a society.
With DATS 24 we are working on greener mobility and more sustainable fuels. Besides petrol and diesel, DATS 24 also offers hydrogen, electricity and natural gas for vehicles (CNG) in Belgium.
Hydrogen, the sustainable fuel of the future
Hydrogen is an ideal, sustainable fuel for vehicles. How exactly is that possible? Through electrolysis, water is separated by electricity into hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel cell on board a vehicle can convert the hydrogen back into electricity. That electricity powers the engine and makes the car drive. The raw materials of hydrogen – water and electricity – are both renewable. While driving, only harmless water vapour, no CO₂, nitrogen oxides or particulate matter, comes out of the exhaust. In other words, a 100 % sustainable and renewable fuel. Since 2004, we have already invested 6 million euros in innovative projects using hydrogen:
- The employees in our distribution centre in Halle use hydrogen-powered forklift trucks. We produce this hydrogen ourselves, using renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels.
- Colruyt Group’s fleet already includes some 25 hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles.
- In October 2018, DATS 24 opened the first filling station in Halle where you can buy all classic and alternative fuels. Including our own 100 % green hydrogen.
CNG as a transition fuel
So, driving on hydrogen sounds promising. But today you do not see many hydrogen-powered cars on the road. It may be some time yet before we, as a society, produce and use hydrogen as a fuel on a large scale. However, we cannot wait that long to switch to more sustainable fuels! That is why, in the meantime, we are investing in CNG, which is already more integrated and available.
Although CNG – natural gas for vehicles – is non-renewable, we consider it a more sustainable fuel today. For this we base ourselves on scientific sustainability analyses in collaboration with VUB, Thomas More Hogeschool and Ghent University. A car powered by CNG emits less CO₂ and significantly less particulates and nitrogen oxides than petrol and diesel cars. Moreover, natural gas is completely safe and can never contaminate the soil or water. The sector is also taking steps to make natural gas more sustainable in the long term by blending biogas or hydrogen.
How we use CNG as a cleaner alternative to petrol or diesel:
- At DATS 24, customers can refuel CNG at 83 stations. This makes us the most important fuel supplier of natural gas for vehicles in Belgium.
- We have eight CNG lorries for goods transport in our fleet.
- Via Collect&Go we are currently testing home delivery with CNG delivery vans.
- 45 % of our company vehicles run on CNG. The majority of our spare vehicles are also CNG vehicles.
Finally, CNG familiarises a large group of motorists with refuelling a gaseous fuel and thus facilitates the transition to hydrogen mobility.
Via DATS 24, we continue to invest in a charging station network for electric cars in the car parks of Colruyt Lowest Prices, Bio-Planet and OKay. There are currently 111 Colruyt Group stores where you can charge your car while you shop. Of course, with 100 % green Belgian electricity. By 2021, we want to have electronic charging stations at 200 locations, both in store car parks for our customers and in car parks for our employees.
Of course we also increasingly drive on green electricity ourselves:
- Employees have four electric cars at their disposal for travel between work places.
- In our range of company cars, this year we introduced a few new 100 % electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars with a large battery capacity.
- There are some electric cars as spare cars in our garage as well.
- Employees can buy a well-priced electric scooter for their commute to work through Colruyt Group.
- At our logistics sites, we are using two electric terminal trucks for pulling trailers.
As a final major principle – in addition to reducing our energy consumption and energy production from renewable sources – we actively work with residual flows, making sure no energy is lost.
Cold for one, warm for the other
Cooling something is literally done by taking the heat out of it. This is what happens, for example, in refrigeration installations for fresh products in our stores. We don’t just let that precious ‘residual heat’ go to waste. We use it to heat the store. This process of heat recovery is applied in all new Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet stores and those stores undergoing renovations.
Heat recovery from cooling is supplemented with heat pumps. Such a heat pump uses 100 % green electricity to extract heat from renewable natural sources such as the earth's soil, ambient air or groundwater, and reuse it. For example, for heating the store or hot water for the butcher’s.
Cogeneration: electricity and heat at the same time
At our logistics and production sites Dassenveld (Halle), Ghislenghien and Stroppen (Halle) we installed a cogeneration plant. It produces electricity from natural gas, as well as a lot of heat. The heat that is released is used to heat the buildings and the water. Because of the use of natural gas, this is not renewable energy, but heat cogeneration uses less fossil fuels than when electricity and heat have to be generated separately. Together, our three installations can produce some 15,200 MWh of electricity annually (the annual consumption of 4,343 families), and about 16,200 MWh of thermal energy (the annual consumption of 566 families).
What are our plans for the future?
- By 2030 we aim to consume 20 % less energy than in the base year 2009 (relative to revenue). By the end of 2019 we were already at 8.7 %. That year we consumed 58.92 MWh of energy per million euros of revenue. By 2030 this should be 51.67 MWh.
- By 2030 at least 60 % of our energy consumption will come from non-fossil fuels. These will come entirely from own or local production units. By the end of 2019 we were already using non-fossil energy sources for 44 % of our consumption.
- By 2030 synchronisation between electricity production and requirements at our central sites in Halle, Ollignies and Ghislenghien will be at least 90 %.
Our targets for 2030 and the results already achieved by the end of 2019.