Growing consumer expectations regarding sustainability and increasing electricity prices have driven shopping centres to invest in solar energy. Elo shopping centre is leading the way by having a solar power plant of record-breaking proportions built on its roof.
A national survey carried out in autumn 2018 shed light on consumer perceptions regarding the most responsible ways for companies to produce electricity. More than 56.5% of the surveyed consumers viewed solar energy as the most responsible way of producing electricity. Wind power was supported by 17.6% and nuclear power by 10.7% of the respondents.
Consumers vote with their feet
In what kinds of purchases do consumers favour companies that use solar energy? This question was also answered by the same survey. Purchases made in shops and shopping centres emerged as having the most significant role in this respect by a clear margin (61%).
The energy solutions of shops and shopping centres are the most significant to consumers.
The sustainability of the company concerned was also a significant factor in purchases related to food (40%), travel (37%) and construction (22%).
We asked Product Group Manager Riku Kuikka from the energy company Helen why the energy choices of shopping centres, in particular, are so significant to consumers.
“One factor is certainly that consumers have realised the best way they can exercise influence is through their buying decisions. There is constantly growing awareness of the energy solutions used by shopping centres and major retail operators. Shopping centres are seen as major operators, so their decisions are perceived as making a genuine difference.”
Optimal benefit for shopping centres
The emergence of shopping centres as the largest users of solar energy is explained not only by consumer expectations but also the benefits of having an on-site power plant.
Solar power production capacity has grown at a tremendous rate — capacity increased by as much as 82% last year alone.
“Shopping centres often have optimal conditions for building a solar power plant. They typically have a large amount of flat, unshaded space, and their roof structures can withstand the installation of the panels,” Kuikka says.
According to Kuikka, another key factor is that shopping centres often have a large base load of electricity consumption, which means they can derive maximum benefit from a solar power plant.
“During the summer season, a solar power plant generates the most electricity precisely when the power consumption of the shopping centre’s cooling system is the highest.”
Elo’s solar power plant points the way forward
The solar power plant under construction on the roof of the Sponda-owned Elo shopping centre will be Finland’s largest roof-mounted power plant in its category. With its capacity exceeding one million watts, the power plant will cover as much as 27% of the shopping centre’s total electricity consumption.
"The solution will also deliver considerable environmental benefits by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 112,000 kg per year."
The electricity generated by the plant is cheaper than grid electricity, which makes it a profitable undertaking right from the start.
The solution will also deliver considerable environmental benefits by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 112,000 kg per year.
“We see this project as one step in our long-term work on sustainability. We continuously develop our planning and design guidelines to maximise the potential offered by energy efficiency and renewable energy at our new properties as well as older properties,” says Pirkko Airaksinen, Sustainability Manager at Sponda.
Sponda was recognised as Europe’s most sustainable company in the property sector in a recent GRESB survey, and the company’s Sustainability Manager wants to challenge lawmakers to reassess the current output restrictions on solar power plants.
“We could have built an even larger power plant at Elo, but it wouldn’t have been cost-effective due to taxation. The regulators should consider whether the upper limit on production could be increased when it comes to solutions based on renewable energy,” Airaksinen points out.
A solar power plant is a win-win proposition
The on-site solar power plant has been enthusiastically received at the Elo shopping centre and in the town of Ylöjärvi. According to Shopping Centre Manager Timo Matinlompolo, the project is a great example of a win-win proposition.
“The environmental impact of the power plant benefits everyone and is particularly significant for our customers. The project will reduce the property’s electricity bill and thereby lead to lower maintenance expenses, which benefits the tenants. The project also supports the climate targets of Ylöjärvi, which aims to become a carbon-neutral town.”
Matinlompolo hopes this will also be an eye-opening project for those who have doubts about the potential offered by solar energy.
“We hope that this project will make our customers think about what solar energy could mean for their company, housing cooperative or property. With the example we are setting, we want to show that making use of renewable energy is no longer merely an eco-friendly act, but also a source of significant financial benefit.”