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May 02, 2013

In the Netherlands, Multinationals 'Top Off' Operations with Solar Power



An increasing number of large global companies with operations in the Netherlands are switching to solar energy, according to a report just released by Rotterdam-based SolarPlaza, a private publishing, conference and research firm.

Among the firms that have—or soon will have—rooftop solar systems to generate their own electricity are the Wieckse Witte-Brewery, owned by Heineken in Den Bosch; a Lidl supermarket branch in Weert; the new IKEA store in Zwolle; and the Tons Mosterd (mustard) factory in Zierikzee .

Oskomera Solar Power Solutions—the largest Dutch supplier of solar energy products, with its head office in Deurne, the Netherlands—currently is installing the largest flat-roof solar photovoltaic system in the nation for an international high-tech company’s Dutch subsidiary. A total of 6,120 solar panels will deliver 1.6 megawatts (MW) of power to the company. 


Companies like IKEA, Heineken and Walmart choose renewable electricity (visual courtesy of SolarPlaza).

“These companies are setting an example; they are promoting sustainable operations and want to generate a substantial amount of their own energy consumption,” commented Oskomera Director Dennis Gieselaar.

The solar project developer already has installed panels on the roof of a branch of Albert Heijn (one of the largest Dutch supermarkets) in Houten, and the roof of Stopera in Amsterdam. Many smaller companies are also making the switch to solar energy, as they are able to take advantage of several subsidy schemes at once, sometimes as much as tripling their profits. “We call those the sweet spots of the Netherlands,” said Gieselaar.Gieselaar will be one of the speakers at “The Solar Future: NL ’13” conference on May 23 in Eindhoven, where this trend will be explained. “Apart from the enormous growth of solar application in the residential sector, many entrepreneurs are discovering solar energy as an attractive and profitable power solution. Making a renewable contribution has become financially attractive and also presents valuable marketing opportunities,” said CEO Edwin Koot of Solarplaza, which is organizing the conference.

Brewing the Greenest Beer

In many cases, installing solar panels is part of a company’s renewable strategy and future vision. Heineken, for example, is striving to be the greenest beer brewer in the world. In Zoeterwoude, the company is working with both wind power and hydropower, while in Den Bosch, the Wieckse Witte and Wieckse Rosé beer brewery has recently switched to solar energy. The brewer’s roof now boasts 3,632 solar panels that generate an annual amount of 855,000 kilowatt hours’ (kWh) worth of energy. That’s enough electricity for the entire brewing process.

“These are elements that increase the sustainability of our breweries, which we are implementing globally,” remarked Heinekin spokesperson Hans Sjouke Koopal.Tons Mosterd, one of the largest mustard producers in the Netherlands, started this movement 13 years ago when it installed its first 52 solar panels in its factory, which supplied 5000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Today, owner and director Ton Schroër has acquired some 532 panels, which generate a combined amount of 48,000 kWh. This powers the entire factory with enough electricity left over to charge two electric cars. Even then, a fair amount is supplied back to the grid.

“I’m doing this from idealistic motives. I want to leave a clean world,” said Schroër, who gained nationwide fame when he used the commercial airtime he won through a national radio campaign to air a black screen, in order to promote awareness for energy saving. Sweden-based home retailer IKEA is also focusing on sustainability—notably through its global “People & Planet Positive” strategy. IKEA aims to make Zwolle its most sustainable branch. “Since it’s a new building, we can apply this principle to all elements of the entire building,” stated company spokesperson Mark Ogertschnig. The roof will not only house solar panels and windmills, but the branch will also be using groundwater for heating, cold storage and heat recovery. 

The growing number of large companies switching to solar energy is not only visible in the Netherlands, but is a global phenomenon. In England, the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is now the largest producer of rooftop solar energy. Fully 169 of its stores now possess a total of 69,500 solar panels— providing 16 MW of solar power. Consequently, the chain has reduced its annual CO2 emission by 6,800 tons and is making substantial savings on its electricity bill.

In the United States, discount chain Walmart will add 1,000 solar systems to its current 200 by 2020. This will enable the company to produce an immense 7 terawatt hours (tWh) of electricity – equivalent to 6 percent of the Netherland’s entire electricity consumption. Ultimately, the company aims to run solely on renewable energy in the future.  


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