Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users

by Silvio Marcacci

Walmart solar panels
Walmart solar panel image via CleanTechnica

Everyone knows solar energy equals environmental benefits, but did you know solar also adds up to a competitive business advantage for some of America’s largest corporations?

US businesses are installing solar panels at breakneck speed to cut energy costs and improve their bottom line, according to the Solar Means Business 2013” report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

From Big Box retailers to industrial manufacturers and commercial real estate developers, installing solar energy makes cents for America’s most well-known and efficiently run businesses.

A “Who’s Who” Of America’s Biggest Businesses

Since the inaugural Solar Means Business report in 2012, more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have been installed on the rooftops of U.S. businesses, non-profits, and government buildings.

“The list of companies moving to clean, affordable solar energy reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the most successful corporations in America,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO.

In fact, the 3,380MW of cumulative commercial solar PV deployment at 32,800 facilities across the US installed through the first two quarters of 2013 represent an increase of more than 40% compared to the same time last year.

While this solar boom for businesses has been wide, it’s also been deep. The 25 companies with the most total solar capacity have more than 445MW of generation installed at 950 different locations – enough to power 73,400 average homes and significantly more than 2012, when the top 25 companies only had 300MW at 730 facilities.

SEIA and Vote Solar contacted every company on the Fortune 100 list and collected data from public databases to compile the report, which only counts on-site PV systems directly supplying power to company facilities, not solar systems selling power to the wholesale electricity market.

Low Solar Energy Costs + Stable Power Prices = Big Business

So what’s driving this shift? As with most business decisions, it comes down to good economics – becoming more profitable through profitable projects with a quick return on investment.

Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline
Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline chart via SEIA

Electricity costs represent the single-largest operating expense for most companies, but solar panel prices have fallen 40% since 2010 and new financing models have reduced up-front investment costs, meaning companies can incorporate solar power below local retail utility rates and save money almost immediately.

Installing solar also empowers companies to hedge against volatile utility prices. Once their rooftop solar system is installed or they finalize a solar power purchase agreement (PPA), a portion of their energy bills are locked in, and the company can focus on other changing costs of doing business.

Walmart Dominates The List

But enough about why business are investing in solar, let’s take a look at which corporations are leading the charge. Unsurprisingly, Walmart dominates every major category in Solar Means Business, with 89.43MW of installed capacity (more than twice their closest competitor) across 215 total solar energy systems (60 more than the runner-up) in 12 states.

US Business Solar Energy Capacity
US Business Solar Energy Capacity via SEIA

The only category Walmart doesn’t dominate is overall percentage of facilities on company land. IKEA took home those honors, with a whopping 89% of solar-powered facilities, good for fifth place in installed capacity with 35MW and sixth place in total installed systems with 39 in 20 states.

A majority of the top companies are Big Box brands, but some notable exceptions stick out, including Apple and Johnson & Johnson ranking fourth and seventh on total capacity, while Walgreens and Safeway ranked second and eight respectively on total installations.

Even though the report is prioritizes on-site systems that supply power directly to company facilities, SEIA also tips its hat to commercial real estate developers building solar but not consuming the generated electricity themselves. Developers like Prologis, with 79MW across 34 installations, often focus on strip malls and retail outlets, helping tenants go green.

Solar-Powered Businesses, Right Around The Corner

Solar power is definitely adding up to bigger profits for US businesses, but the biggest benefit of this fast-expanding market may also be normalizing the technology for consumers – perhaps why 92% of American voters support developing more solar energy.

117 million people in 30 states now live within 20 miles of at least one of the installations analyzed by Solar Means Business, meaning one in three Americans can potentially interact with a green (and profitable) business every day.

“For years, the promise of solar was always ‘just around the corner” added Adam Browning of Vote Solar. “Well solar has turned the corner and found itself on Main Street, USA.”

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This article, Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Renewable Energy Hits the Roof

by John Brian Shannon

Several major retailers with worldwide operations are busily installing solar panels on top of their ‘big-box’ retail stores and offices. Walmart, Walgreens, IKEA and others, are spending huge sums of money to cover their rooftop spaces with solar panels — and are installing wind turbines at, or near, their retail store locations.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and is fully committed to obtaining 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sources. As Walmart continues to add stores around the world and increase its car and truck fleets, it bases its calculations for CO2 emissions (from all sources) on the calculation of tonnes of CO2 used/emitted – per $1 million U.S. dollars of retail sales.

In 2005, Walmart operations emitted just over 60 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) it took in from retail sales. While adding more stores and adding capacity to existing stores, that ratio had decreased to just over 50 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) by 2009. This lowering of CO2 emissions occurred during a period of unprecedented growth for the chain, which means that Walmart got a lot more energy-efficient.

In addition to solar panels on its rooftops and wind turbines on its properties, Walmart is purchasing green energy from utility companies which operate solar and wind power plants, via power purchase agreements (PPA’s).

We are in the second year of a four-year agreement to purchase clean energy from a state-of-the-art Duke Energy wind farm in Notrees, Texas. The agreement supplies up to 15 percent of the energy needs in 350 of our Texas locations. It has reduced our carbon emissions by 139,000 metric tons per year, which is the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road or eliminating the CO2 produced by 18,000 homes annually, raising environmental quality and quality of life in the communities we serve. — Walmart

And in Canada: The opening of the Balzac Fresh Food Distribution Centre on November 10, 2010, marked a major ­milestone. With hydrogen fuel cells used to power forklifts, as well as solar thermal and wind power, the 400,000-square-foot facility serves as a living lab for ­sustainability. It will boost energy efficiency by an estimated 60 percent over the company’s traditional refrigerated centres, while cutting costs by USD $4.83 million over the next five years. – Walmart

Walgreens, which owns and operates 8000 stores is building the first of many Net Zero Buildings – so designated for producing as much electricity as they use and often producing surplus electricity to sell to the local grid.

The first such store will be located at Evanston, Illinois, and according to Energy Manager Today, the store will include:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels,
  • two wind turbines,
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more constant and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer,
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting,
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials.

Engineering estimates, which can vary due to factors such as weather, store operations and systems performance, indicate the store will use 200,000 kWh per year while generating 256,000 kWh per year.

Walgreens will attempt to have the store achieve LEED Platinum status from the US Green Building Council, and plans to enter the store into the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. The store will be Walgreens second showcase project in the Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, Walgreens has committed to a chain-wide 20 percent energy reduction by 2020.

The Better Buildings Challenge is gaining momentum. Recently, Sprint became the first telecommunications company to join the program. And more than 100 companies have joined the DOE’s Better Plants program. – Energy Manager Today

IKEA has a robust renewable energy program dedicated to 100% energy self-sufficiency by 2020 with plans to spend 1.5 billion euros by 2015 towards that goal.

IKEA Group’s chief sustainability officer, Steve Howard said “within three years, IKEA will receive 70% of its electricity from renewable energy [which] we own and operate” adding, “We’ll expand that from 2015 – 2020 to 100 per cent”.

In reference to utility-supplied electricity rate spikes anticipated by IKEA, Howard said, “We know we’re going to be using energy in 20 years’ time. If we can own our own renewable energy plants, it gives us complete price certainty.”

It appears that major users of electricity such as ‘big box’ stores and other large commercial spaces are predicting higher prices for utility-supplied electricity — and rather than pay those higher rates, are opting for their own solar and wind power plants. As polysilicon solar panel prices have fallen in price almost every month since September 2010 and continue to fall in price (bottoming-out in June or July of 2013) you may see solar panel installations appearing on large buildings featuring (largely empty) rooftop spaces, such as the rooftop of your favourite retail store.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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