Big-box stores can help reduce emissions and save millions by installing solar

As of February 2021, 54 solar arrays have been installed across 90% of IKEA’s U.S. locations.

Utilizing the solar potential of the full roofs of these superstores will generate enough electricity to power an average of about 8 million homes, the report concludes, and reduce the same amount of planetary warming emissions as pulling 11.3 million gas-powered vehicles off the road.

The Walmart store, for example, has an average roof of 180,000 square feet, according to the report. It is roughly the size of three football fields and has enough space to support solar energy, which can provide the equivalent of 200 homes, the report said.

“Every roof in America that doesn’t produce solar energy is ruined because we work to break our dependence on fossil fuels and the geopolitical conflicts that come with them,” Johanna Newman, senior director of the 100% Renewable Environment America campaign, told CNN. . “Now is the time to lean towards local renewable energy production, and there is no better place than the roof of America’s big-box superstore.”
Advocates involved in the Clean Energy worker-training program told CNN that a solar revolution in big-box retail would also have a significant impact on local communities, encouraging economic growth while tackling the climate crisis, which has caused disproportionate damage to marginalized populations.

Yet a fraction of Big-Box stores in the United States have solar canopies on the roof or in the parking lot, the authors of the report told CNN.

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CNN reached out to the top five U.S. retailers – Walmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Costco and Target – to ask: Why not invest in more rooftop solar?

Many renewable energy experts point to solar as a relatively simple solution to reduce costs and help curb fossil fuel emissions, but companies point to a number of roadblocks – rules, labor costs and the structural integrity of roofs themselves – that are more widely resisted. Adoption

Edwin Cowan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, says the need for such clean energy initiatives is becoming “suspiciously urgent” as the climate crisis accelerates.

“We’re eight balls behind, to put it mildly,” Quinn told CNN. “I would have preferred to see policy support to encourage rooftop solar 15 years ago instead of five years ago in commercial areas. There is still a lot of work to be done.”

What is a holdup?

Newman says Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, has the largest solar potential ever. Walmart has about 5,000 stores in the United States and more than 783 million square feet of roof space – larger than Manhattan – and more than 8,974 gigawatt-hours of annual rooftop solar potential, according to the report.

That’s enough electricity to supply more than 842,000 homes, the report said.

Walmart spokesman Mariel Messier told CNN that the company is involved in renewable energy projects around the world, but most of them are not rooftop solar installations. The company said it has completed on- and off-site wind and solar projects or is in the process of developing more than 2.3 gigawatts of renewable energy.
Newman said Environment America has met with Walmart several times, asking retailers to promise to install solar panels on rooftops and parking lots. The company says it aims to source 100% of its energy by 2035 through renewable projects.

“Of all the retailers in the United States, Walmart has the most impact if it installs solar on the roofs of all its stores,” Newman told CNN. “And for us, this report just underscores how much impact they can have if they make the decision.”

According to Environment America, by the end of FY 2021, Walmart has installed approximately 194 megawatts of solar power at its U.S. facilities and additional power at off-site solar farms. The company’s installations in California were expected to supply between 20% and 30% of the electricity demand at each location.

Solar panels on the roof of a Target store in Inglewood, California in 2020.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the target for solar power at the site was number 1 in 2019.
According to a recent report by the industry trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, the target for 2019 on-site solar power is number 1. It currently has 542 locations, including rooftop solar – close to a quarter of the company’s stores – a target spokesman told CNN. The rooftop solar generates enough energy to meet 15% to 40% of the energy needs of the target properties, the spokesman said.

The company has 121 stores worldwide, including Rooftop Solar, of which 95 are in the United States, said Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer.

Walmart, Target and Costco did not share with CNN what their biggest hurdle is adding rooftop or parking lot solar panels to more stores.

“My suspicion is that they naturally want a stronger business case to deviate from the business,” Newman said. “Historically, those roofs have covered their shops and are reconsidering how. [they] Use their buildings and think of them as power generators, not just rain protection, they need a small change in their business model. “

The Home Depot, which has about 2,300 stores, currently has 75 full-roof solar projects, 12 are under construction and more than 30 are planned for future development, said Craig D’Arsi, the company’s director of energy management. Solar power generates about half of the store’s energy demand on average, he said.

D’Arsi added that aging roofs in stores are a “huge obstacle” to solar installation. If a roof needs to be replaced in the next 15 to 20 years or so, adding a solar system today for a home depot does not make financial sense, he said.

“We have a goal to implement solar rooftops where the economy is attractive,” D’RC told CNN.

CNN also reached out to Kroger, who owns about 2,800 stores across the United States. Kroger spokesman Crystal Howard said the company currently has 15 properties – stores, distribution centers and manufacturing centers – including solar installations. “One of the many factors that affect the effectiveness of a solar installation is the store’s ability to support rooftop solar installations,” Howard said.

A worker walks through the solar panels installed on the roof of an IKEA in Miami in 2014.  As of February, 90% of IKEA's U.S. locations have solar installed

Solar is already attractive, but labor costs, incentives and various levels of control could potentially create some financial challenges to solar installation, said Cowell, a colonel’s engineering professor.

“For them, that usually means hiring a local site firm that can do the installation that also knows local policy,” Coyne said. “This is another level of complexity that I think is beginning to make sense because costs have dropped significantly, but it is necessary to reopen the entrance to an existing building.”

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Republican Shawn Kasten of Illinois, who is vice president of the House Power Sector Task Force, said the United States has “failed to motivate people who have the skills to make these things.” Kasten said both the retail company and the power sector have not made much progress in solar because “our system is very isolated” and has a complex control structure.

“Why aren’t we doing something that makes sense economically? The answer is this horribly isolated federal policy where we heavily subsidize fossil energy extraction, and we penalize clean energy production,” Kasten told CNN. “In the long run, if you want to build a solar panel on Walmart’s roof, your biggest enemy is going to be your local utility because they don’t want to lose load.

“We could have done it decades ago,” Castin added. “And if we did that, we wouldn’t be in this awful position with the climate, we would have a lot more money in our pockets.”

Acting on climate, fairly

For Charles Callaway, Organizing Director of the nonprofit group WE ACT for Environmental Justice, it is not wise to reinforce rooftop solar power in large box retail stores, especially if companies allow the local community to reap the benefits through installation work or sharing. Later electricity is generated.

Either way, it would pave the way for a climate crisis and start a just shift away from fossil fuels – and that’s possible, Callaway told CNN.

Solar panels on the roof of a Costco store in Inglewood, California in 2021.  Costco told the CNN 95 store in the United States that there is a solar installation on the roof.
The New York City resident led a staff training program that helped train more than 100 local community members, mostly people of color, from becoming solar installers. He also formed a solar worker cooperative so that many of the participants in the training program could find jobs in a difficult market.

Over the past two years, Callaway has said its group has not only installed solar panels on the roofs of affordable housing units, but also installed equipment capable of generating 2MW of solar power at New York’s Upper Shopping Mall. He emphasized that hiring locally would be most beneficial because local installers know the community and local regulations best.

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“One of my biggest concerns is social equity,” Cowan said. “Access to renewable energy is a fairly privileged position these days, and we need to find ways to make it happen.”

Jasmine Graham, WE ACT’s energy justice policy manager, says the prospect of rooftop solar in large box superstores is encouraging, “only if these projects use local labor, if they pay conventional wages, and if the solar is used in a manner such as Community Solar, which will allow [utility] Bill discounts for people living in the same utility zone. “

Pressure is mounting on world leaders to act urgently on the climate crisis after a UN report in late February warned that the window for action would close quickly.

Newman believes the United States can meet its energy needs with renewable energy. He said the political will for this change and the inclusion of the local community so that no one is left behind in the transition.

“The sooner we make this transition, the sooner we get clean air, the sooner we get a safer environment and better health, and the sooner we get a more livable future for our children,” Newman said. “And if it requires investment, it’s worth the investment.”

Judson Jones of CNN contributed to this report.

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