Retail chain Marks & Spencer is using crowdfunding to source the money for installation of solar panels on its shops.
In partnership with Energy4All, a non-profit group that helps community groups begin energy co-ops, the chain is aiming to raise £1.23m in order to put panels on nine of its larger stores, including sites in Devon, Cornwall and Hertfordshire.
The new entity, known as M&S Energy Society, is asking for investments between £100 and £100,000 to pay for 891kWh-worth of panels for 20 years, from which M&S will buy energy. The group is offering an interest rate of 5% each year for investors.
Lydia Hopton, Plan A project manager at M&S, commented: “This project is a great opportunity for customers to invest in green energy and help the environment, while also supporting local community groups. We’re really excited that M&S will be the first retailer to launch a scheme of this kind.”
Profits from the M&S Energy Society will be distributed through a community benefit fund which will help to support local energy projects. These projects include improving insulation on community buildings and helping local residents reduce their fuel consumption. Members of the scheme will have the opportunity to vote on which initiatives receive funding.
This is the first corporate tie-up for Energy4All, which has so far backed 20 renewable energy co-ops around the UK, most of which are wind power related.
A spokeswoman said she hoped that the tie-up with M&S would be the first of many, but a cut in government incentives of 65% in January makes this seem unlikely.
She said the group had managed to register the M&S tie-up before the cuts were announced, therefore benefiting from them this time, but that would not be the case in the future.
“We did want this to be the blueprint for more but the changes in tariff have put a dampener on that,” said the spokeswoman.
The new Energy Society scheme is a part of M&S’s plan to source 50% of its electricity usage in the UK from small-scale renewables by 2020. In 2014 M&S installed the largest single array of rooftop solar panels in the UK on its distribution centre in Castle Donington.
Other retailers have also moved towards using more renewable energy. Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is one of the largest rooftop solar operators in Europe. The chain has installed more than 170,000 solar panels on its stores and distribution centres, and plans to eventually move off the grid.
Kingfisher, owner of B&Q and Screwfix, is also looking to reduce its reliance on the National Grid and has invested £50m in solar panels for its stores and distribution centres.
Ikea, the worlds largest furniture retailer, has also pledged to spend £700m on renewables as part of its plan to generate all of its energy from clean sources by 2020.