Report Says Solar Panels On Retail Roofs Can Power 7 Million Homes

Feb 17, 2016

An environmental action group is launching an effort to encourage big box stores to utilize their rooftops for solar power.

Environment America says the tops of stores like Wal-Mart and Target are a largely untapped resource for solar panels. A new report from the group says panels on 4.5 billion square feet of rooftop on roughly 100,000 large retail locations across the U.S. could power more than 7 million homes. That’s more than triple the solar photovoltaic capacity installed nationally to date. Ben Hellerstein is the state director for Environment Massachusetts.

“Super store roofs are perfect locations for solar panels,” Hellerstein said. “They’re mostly flat and they’re almost always fully exposed to the sun. Rooftop solar on super stores would play a large role in cutting pollution. Utilizing the existing roof space on all of Massachusetts’ big retail chain stores and shopping centers would produce enough electricity to power 108,000 homes and reduce climate warming carbon pollution by 570 metric tons annually.”

With the findings, Environment America is calling on Target to put solar panels on all of its stores totaling 240 million square feet of retail space, second only to Wal-Mart’s 680 million square feet. Hellerstein says the retailer has 30 stores in the Bay State.

“They [Target] have not yet come close to fulfilling all that potential,” Hellerstein said. “According to our report, companies like Wal-Mart and IKEA — which IKEA has much less rooftop space — have already exceeded Target in terms of the amount of solar they have installed. Target has shown that they want to do more. Last year they pledged to put solar panels on 500 of their nearly 2,000 stores by 2020. That’s definitely a good step in the right direction, but we want to them the extra push to go all the way and pledge to put solar on all their stores.”

Kate Galbo of the Boston-based Climate Action Business Association says pursing clean energy goals benefits a company’s public image.

“We live in a world where a company’s public image is built on their commitment to social responsibility,” Galbo said. “Studies show that 9 out of 10 consumers would refrain from doing business with a corporation without a social responsibility plan.”

Of the businesses evaluated by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Wal-Mart, Costco, Kohl’s, IKEA and Macy’s had the most solar capacity installed as of the end of 2015. Wal-Mart has at least 142 MW of on-site installed solar capacity. The top 25 companies in the survey of Fortune 100 companies and other businesses with known solar portfolios have installed 1,462 solar energy systems at locations across the United States. Gideon Weissman of the research and analysis organization Frontier Group co-authored the Environment America study.

“These big box rooftops can be some of the most cost-effective places to install solar panels,” Weissman said. “Super stores are also often close to communities that could take advantage of extra electricity produced and benefit from a more resilient grid.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is in the midst of a nearly year-long stalemate after reaching its net metering cap in March 2015. Lawmakers and Republican Governor Charlie Baker have offered options to break the blockade, but nothing has stuck — putting some solar projects on hold. Despite the impasse, Hellerstein says there is growing recognition that something needs to be done.

“The Senate passed a bill to lift the cap on solar, the governor released his proposal and the House passed a bill back in November,” Hellerstein outlined. “Even though the House proposal and the governor’s proposal were deeply flawed in a number of ways, at least they were coming to the table and acknowledging the existence of the problem and the need to keep solar growing.”

Click here for to view the report.