The commercial embrace of solar

Solar Curator

New report underscores surge in solar PV installations in the U.S. business community

When I was growing up, if someone said, “he means business,” the phrase implied that the guy was serious in intent and focused on his objectives. The play on words inherent in the title of the new “Solar Means Business” report, issued by SEIA and Vote Solar, encompasses both that focused intent and the fact that the commercial PV sector in many parts of the United States is booming. As the inaugural report made clear last year and the new edition reinforces, a host of iconic brands have embraced solar power as a key part of their business model.

The numbers are compelling: As of midyear, the study found a total of 3.38GW of commercial solar installed in 32,800 different facilities (up >40% versus the previous period), with the top 25 companies accounting for over 445MW of that generating capacity in more than 950 locations. Last year, the top 25 represented 300MW of the total, spread across 730 sites, so the latest figures represent a 48% jump. One fascinating factoid: “More than one out of every three Americans lives within 20 miles [32km] of at least one of these businesses’ solar installations.”

Topping the bigbox-dominated list is Walmart, which has installed 89.43MW across 215 facilities in 11 states, for an average system size of 416KW. Number-two deployer Costco has 47.6MW of installed capacity on 78 sites in 6 states, for an average system size of 603KW. Fifth-place Ikea, with its 35.08MW on 39 sites in 20 states, enjoys a much larger average system size of 899KW. Ikea tops one particularly compelling statistical category—the percentage of its facilities with solar power. The Swedish global chain has put PV on 89% of its U.S. sites, compared to 17% for Costco and only 5% for Walmart. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that if Walmart were to equip, say, 50% of its various locations with solar at its current average system size, the company would roughly account for nearly 900MW of enterprise-wide (U.S. anyway) PV capacity. Will Walmart one day be synonymous with gigawatt-scale solar?

The report also has a brief section on commercial real estate developers that might use the solar electricity to power the operators of their tenants sell to utilities at wholesale. Leading the sample list is Prologis, a global leader in warehouse and distribution center property ownership (in terms of millions of square feet) and one of the earliest adopters of commercial rooftop solar. The company has 79.574MW deployed on 34 facilities in the U.S. so far (and many megawatts outside the U.S.), according to the study, or about 2.34MW per site—a much larger average system size than most of the firms counted on the main list. If one were to blend Prologis into that primary top 25, it would rank second behind Walmart in amount of PV installed and eighth behind Staples in the number of facilities with solar.

To get a free copy of the “Solar Means Business” report, click here, and to check out the related infographic, click here.