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November 20th, 2013

Wal-Mart Goes Solar

by Andrew Price, President & COO

Solar PV costs have been dropping like a stone. In states that are very sunny, have good incentives, high electricity costs, or a combination of all three factors, solar PV is already competitive with delivered electricity costs. So-called grid parity is still a few years off in northern states that lack incentives, but solar can still be justified in these states if indirect benefits can be realized. If further evidence of solar’s financial viability was required, witness the move by low cost king Wal-Mart to become one of the country’s largest consumers of solar PV. The Bentonville, AR based mega-retailer has set an “aspirational goal” of being supplied by 100% renewable energy. Solar PV clearly has a role to play in achieving this goal.

Wal-Mart’s current solar capacity stands at 89 megawatts, the most of American-based companies. Wal-Mart has nearly double the capacity of the second-placed company, fellow big box store, Costco. It shouldn’t be a surprise that companies like Apple and Google are stepping into the ring in efforts to improve sustainability, but the heft and low cost culture that Wal-Mart brings could prove to be a catalyst for solar PV capacity on the whole.

Top 25 Companies by Solar Capacity:

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

Despite outpacing its peers, Wal-Mart’s solar experiment has significant growth potential, as currently only about 3.7% of their facilities are powered by renewables. Most of Wal-Mart’s solar capacity is reportedly contracted through power purchase agreements, where a 3rd party owns and operates the system and sells the generated energy to the store at an agreed upon contract rate.

Although it doesn’t hurt, you needn’t be a one of the largest companies out there to realize gains from renewables, solar or otherwise. Solar PV prices have come down for all size installations and certain states have offered large incentives for those who integrate solar into their facilities. Many non-solar options exist as well including biomass and geothermal for heating needs. The utilization of renewable energy certificates (RECs), is another option for end-users that may not be ready for, or able to, commit to an onsite renewable energy project. Bottom line, there are many providers and products to choose from when considering a green power purchase. But keep an eye on solar PV costs; with Wal-Mart stepping up to bat, solar costs could be in for an additional rollback.

Special thanks to CES Data Analyst, Brad Neumyer, who researched and co-wrote this blog post. 

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