The Windmill’s Not For Turning

Nat sent me these pictures some time ago, but it was the old story – Blogger wasn’t letting me upload pics at the time and I proceeded to forget all about them.

When Sainsburys took away the old windmills from their flagship store on the Peninsula (better known to us as the Telly-Tubby Sainsburys, of course) I assumed that that was that.

I mean they’d already removed the electric-car charging points (though to be honest I’d never seen anyone using them and who knows – perhaps they are better off as diagonal parking spaces for 4×4 drivers who are too important to find an actual bay) and as far as I could see the only thing the windmills and solar panels ever did was provide the lighting for the advertising banners below.

But they’re back – and with a new vertical design. Gwladys Street just happened to be doing a spot of shopping back in May, whilst they were going up under the cloak of night, and like all good Friends of The Phantom, (sounds like some kind of euphemism, doesn’t it..) happened to have brought along a camera:

Very occasionally they’re spinning round, usually not. Sometimes they take it in turns. But – and this is most interesting – there are no posters beneath them this time.

So what do they actually do? What are they actually for? And, come to think of it, just how eco-friendly is that store, for all its grass walls and funky fanlights? I have no idea.

It all put me to mind of George Monbiot’s book Heat, in which he discusses Sainsbury’s claims to eco-friendliness. He quotes the supermarket boasting of “an earth cooling system for air conditioning, natural light from north-facing windows, a gas-fired combined heat and power station, solar panels and two wind turbines,” and points out that if this kind of efficiency was rolled out across the board, massive savings in energy could be made.

He goes on to talk about those infamous turbines:

“The only firm figures I can find for this ‘watershed in supermarket architecture’ give me further cause for suspicion. The store’s two wind turbines, which Sainsburys customers see when they enter the car park, are each 3.6 metres in diameter. This suggests, at mean wind speeds of 4 metres per second, that their average combined output is a little over 0.4 kilowatt hours – a microscopic fraction of the power the store must use. Even this is likely to be generous, as they stand just 12 metres from the ground, and their poles support advertising hoardings, which must create turbulence.”

Well, George. The good news is that the ads are gone. The bad news is that in the months the new turbines have been up, they’ve been turning less often than the Greenwich Wheel is just now. I’m guessing their output is currently pretty much zero. And in Sainsbury’s latest refit, where perfectly good wood cladding was chucked out for shiny new stuff, the turf outside was laid so badly, and on such a hot day that it all collapsed down the hill and became frazzled; at a time when they actually had an opportunity to make a serious difference in carbon emissions, they didn’t. Those sodding fridges and freezers are STILL open to the atmosphere, permanently engaged in battle with the in-store heating.

I wouldn’t leave the Phantom Household freezer door open – and I’m convinced that nor would supermarkets if they didn’t think they’d lose custom to their rivals from shoppers too lazy to open a fridge door.

In Heat, Monbiot talks to an anonymous retailer who used the frankly pathetic excuse that the doors would mist up if purchasers opened the fridges and other people wouldn’t be able to see the goods. I assume they haven’t heard of labels (or photos of the items if they’re really scared they’ll lose the illiterate shopper.)

In my humble opinion, the only way around that particular impasse is legislation – a sledgehammer to crack a nut, perhaps, but if ALL supermarkets were forced to put doors on fridges/freezers, I’m sure they’d secretly love it – I mean it would cut their costs overnight…

George Monbiot is deeply circumspect about Sainsbury’s data. He says:

“My researcher contacted J. Sainsbury three times, hoping to obtain operational figures, and to discover whether or not they had been independently audited. Six months later we are still waiting for a response.”

Since the book came out in 2006, I thought I’d drop George a line to see whether he ever did hear from Sainsburys. After all, if I can manage a thank-you letter to Scary Auntie Phantom for my Christmas Woolly by May, surely Sainsburys can come up with a few sums in two years. His reply? Short and with just a little regret – after all – this store should have been a big move forward.

“I am afraid I never received a response from them.”


Pre-refit Sainsburys complete with old turbines…

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