2012-09-14

The Most Solar Company In The U.S. Is ... Walmart?

There’s no sense in letting all that roof real estate go to waste. But is the retailer—which has the most installed solar capacity of any company—really a renewable energy hero?

Walmart’s sustainability initiatives are often criticized, with progress dismissed as slow and modest. But there’s one fact that Walmart’s detractors can’t ignore: the big box chain has more installed solar capacity and more solar energy systems than any other U.S. company in existence.

The report, from the Solar Energy Industries Association, cites Costco, Kohl’s, Ikea, and Macy’s among other top solar producers in the country. But does this mean that Walmart is some sort of renewable energy hero? After all, the company has significantly more installed solar capacity than Costco, the second-place company (65,000 kW versus 38,900 kW).

Remember: Walmart is the biggest company in the world, so we might expect them to have more solar capacity than other large companies. In the U.S., 2% of the company’s power comes from renewable sources (it’s a number that is rapidly growing, however).

There are other metrics to look at, too—Ikea, for example, has solar installed at locations in 16 U.S. states, while Walmart has deployed solar in just seven states. Ikea also beats Walmart in the percentage of U.S. stores with solar installations—38 out of 44 of the former company’s U.S. locations have solar power, while a Walmart spokeswoman recently said in an interview with Businessweek that the company hopes to have 1,000 solar-powered locations by 2020 (out of 4,522 stores). Nonetheless, Walmart is much bigger than Ikea, and increasing solar capacity takes time. We really can’t complain.

Increasingly cheap solar panels and attractivesolar financing plans mean that corporate solar installations will continue at a rapid clip in the coming years. Over the next half a decade, businesses and other large energy consumers (nonprofits, schools, etc.) will install 7,000 megawatts of solar PV systems, or enough power to replace seven coal plants. Why rely on utility companies to increase solar capacity when big business can do it quickly?

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