The Shoprite Group, South Africa’s largest retailer by market capitalization, sales, profits and number of employees and customers, continues to grow its fleet of solar powered trailers. Now the concern has 903 trucks and 1360 trailers. Of these, 1,041 trailers now have roof-mounted solar panels to support the cooling load. Solar panels are also used to power the rest of the non-refrigerated fleet.
Solar panels on refrigerated trailers allow operators to turn off the diesel engine when the trucks are stationary. For example, during loading or unloading at their stores and distribution centers, solar panels power refrigeration units. This results in significant savings in diesel fuel that would otherwise be burned idling to power refrigeration units. Units powered by solar batteries have been introduced into the Group’s fleet since 2017. This is part of the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. So far, Shoprite says 3,290t of CO2 has been saved from diesel use by the solar-powered fleet.
The Group’s supply network includes 29 distribution centers covering 673,843 m2, which the group says gives it a competitive edge in the retail industry to consistently deliver on its business promise of everyday low prices. The Group’s centralized supply chain enables greater efficiency across the territory. Under this model, suppliers deliver to 29 distribution centers from which products are picked and shipped to their stores. The total distance traveled by their fleet during the last fiscal year was 89,037,646 km. Shoprite Group transports a lot of cargo on these routes. For example, the number of products delivered from distribution centers to stores during this period was 351,394,500. The Group employs 1,531 drivers.
In terms of the energy used to actually drive these large trucks, the Group’s fleet is still powered by internal combustion engines. However, the Group is closely following developments in the battery electric truck segments as well as the hydrogen truck segments. Battery electric trucks capable of covering the Group’s extensive routes across a country as large as South Africa are not yet available, especially with right-hand drive. At the same time, the Group is focusing on optimizing the energy use of its current fleet by installing solar panels on the roofs to support cooling loads, as well as other measures such as optimizing routes and driver behaviour.
It is also converting its fleet to more fuel-efficient trucks. The group recently acquired 100 Scania Euro V trucks which have fuel savings of around 10% and lower CO2 and NOx emissions compared to the older generation trucks that are part of their fleet. This is the first Euro V fleet in the South African retail sector. The group also optimizes the efficiency of its routes by ensuring that trucks return from these stores with some cargo rather than empty. These loads include plastic and cardboard boxes for recycling. Over the past year, these trips have increased by 7.5%.
The trucking industry is a major contributor to emissions worldwide, which is why there is so much hype surrounding the upcoming Tesla Semi and other trucks. Volvo and Mercedes are also quite active in this space. We hope to see these electric trucks in this part of the world in the near future as charging infrastructure grows in South Africa. This is likely to happen when large all-electric trucks with an all-electric range and specification to meet the needs of large companies such as the Shoprite Group, which operates in 11 African countries, become more affordable. The group has more than 2,900 stores across Africa. Some of Shoprite Group’s well-known customer-focused brands include Checkers, Shoprite, USave, OK and House & Home.
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