Corporate Managers Are Buying Into Solar Energy

In recent years, the residential market has led the way when it comes to installing rooftop solar panels. But commercial and industrial customers are changing that dynamic as they also get in the solar game.

Among the major players are Target, Walmart and Apple, which not only see the benefit of burnishing their brands by becoming clean energy advocates but which are also doing so to increase their operational savings. Target led the way, having installed 147.5 megawatts of solar capacity in 2016.

“We’re incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made in improving building efficiencies and reducing environmental impact,” John Leisen, vice president of property management at Target, said in a release. “Our commitment to installing solar panels on 500 stores and distribution centers by 2020 is evidence of that progress.” 

Furthermore, the cost of solar has fallen 29% in one year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, which helped lead to record-breaking 2016: 14,800 of installed solar and 97% growth over 2015. The association produced a report called Solar Means Business that list the nation’s businesses that are leading the solar revolution. 

Consider another major retailer, IKEA: It just announced that it would be installing a 1.25 megawatt system comprised of 2,800 panels atop its future Grand Prairie, Texas store. That will be its third such outlet in Texas with rooftop solar panels.

The Grand Prairie store, which will be 181,500 square feet, will produce about 2 million kilowatts of electricity a year. That, in turn, will avoid 1,406 tons of carbon each year, it said.

Altogether, that chain will mark its 48th installation in the United States, with a total generation capacity of 42 megawatts. Globally, meanwhile, it said that it has 700,000 panels atop buildings around the world. It will be investing $2.5 billion in renewable energy projects through 2020.

“We are excited about furthering our sustainability commitment and a low-carbon society with solar panels on this Grand Prairie store,” said Lars Petersson, IKEA U.S. president. “IKEA has a mission to create a better everyday life for the many, and IKEA Grand Prairie can add to this goal while also keeping us the largest non-utility private solar owner in Texas.”

To be clear, rooftop solar panels are a form of distributed energy that only relies on the grid when the sun isn’t shining or to send excess power to utilities. Utility-scale solar power, by contrast, feeds into the grid. Because it is generated from a central location and then transported to the urban areas where it often consumed, it can be  more cost effective than distributed power.

With that, utility-scale solar has represented about two-thirds of the market over the last few years, says the solar association. And that is expected to continue this year with 18,000 megawatts of capacity in the pipeline.

The customers are not just major retail chains but also smaller commercial and industrial enterprises. Santa Barbara-based Wiser Capital has said that 83% of the small-to-mid-size company managers that it surveyed will be investing in solar energy projects by 2020.

More broadly, PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that the green energy market has grown over the last 24 months and that it will continue to expand. Seventy-two percent of the companies it surveyed said that they are pursuing renewables, noting that they want to be more sustainable and to use green energy to hedge against volatile energy prices.

“Investing in solar is a common-sense decision that pays dividends for both the environment and companies’ bottom lines and these leaders deserve a big round of applause,” said solar association interim president Tom Kimbis. “They’re not only helping to create thousands of American jobs in solar, the nearly 2,000 corporate systems … are generating enough clean electricity to offset more than 1.1 million metric tons of harmful carbon emissions a year.”

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