Discounters Walmart, Costco and Kohl’s lead 'Top 20' US solar companies

12. September 2012 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By:  Cheryl Kaften

Solar is going "through the roof" in the United States, according to a report released by the Washington, DC-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the San Francisco-based Vote Solar Initiative on September 12. In fact, the top 20 commercial solar users in America have installed more than 1.2 million photovoltaic panels, combined, covering more than 544 acres of rooftops.

REC Ikea photovoltaics solar installation 1.8 MW california

Ikea has installed 21.4 MW of photovoltaics on its rooftops.

And just the top 2, alone – Walmart and Costco, with 144 systems and 134 systems, respectively – have more photovoltaics installed on their store rooftops than all of the photovoltaic capacity deployed in the State of Florida, or the "Sunshine State." Kohl’s Department Stores comes in at a close third, with 124 systems deployed.

According to the findings of the study, "Solar Means Business: Top Commercial Solar Customers in the United States", which were announced at a live press conference at the Solar Power International event in Orlando, Florida, the rapidly falling cost of solar has made it an increasingly appealing investment for American businesses. Between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, the average price of a completed commercial photovoltaic  system fell by nearly 14%.

What’s more, the fact that the "big box" discount retailers are leading the solar pack is no coincidence, SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch told reporters, noting that the size of their facilities (and roofs) easily accommodates photovoltaic arrays. "For [many] companies, their roofs are a liability and something they need to sink money into repairing every 10 or 15 years," he said. "These companies are actually turning their roofs into an asset. It’s a completely different way of thinking about their facilities."

In total, the 42 companies analyzed for this report have deployed at least 321 MW of photovoltaic capacity at more than 750 locations in at least 26 states and Puerto Rico. The 20 companies with the highest installed capacity have deployed at least 279 MW – enough to supply all the electricity needs of 46,500 American households. Altogether, U.S. commercial solar installations could power more than 390,000 American homes, according to the report.

The full list of the top 20 companies – in terms of on-site solar capacity deployed in kilowatts (kW) – are among some of the most iconic household brands in America: Walmart (65,000 kW); Costco (38,900) ; Kohl’s Department Stores (36,474); IKEA (21,495); Macy’s (16,163); McGraw-Hill (14,113); Johnson & Johnson (11,619); Staples, Inc (10,776).; Campbell’s Soup (9,900); Walgreens (8,163); Bed, Bath & Beyond (7,543); Toys ‘R’ Us (5,676); General Motors 5,630); FedEx (4,889) ; White Rose Foods (4,888); Dow Jones (4,100); Snyder’s of Hanover (3,500) ; ProLogis (3,499); Hartz Mountain Industries (3,438); and Crayola (3,356).

Combined, the top 20 corporate solar users’ installations generate an estimated $47.3 million worth of electricity each year. The top 10 companies (by capacity) have individually deployed more solar energy than most electric utilities in the United States.

General Motors, which snagged the leading numbers for the automotive industry, was also present at the press conference. GM’s solar arrays will generate enough electricity this year to power 800 homes in the United States, and that amount is expected to double in 2013. Some of GM’s top solar installations in America  include a 1.237 MW array on the rooftop of the company’s White Marsh, Maryland, plant near Baltimore, and a 1 MW solar array on a distribution center in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

In the near future, the company envisions running its cars on solar energy. "When [our customers] buy a Volt, they will never have to go to a gas station again. All the [fuel] will get delivered to them every day as the sun comes up," commented Rob Threlkeld, manager of Renewable Energy, General Motors, who also acknowledged that the electric vehicle industry still has some acceptance problems in Middle America. "EV is an East Coast and West Coast phenomenon right now," he admitted.

According to the report, other companies that are significant users of solar include Apple; Bloomberg LP; Del Monte Foods; GE; Google; Intel; JC Penny; Kaiser Permanente; Lackland Storage; Lord & Taylor; L’OREAL USA; MARS SNACKFOOD, US Foods LLC; Stop and Shop; Merck; REI, SAS Institute Inc.; and Tiffany & CO.

During the first half of 2012, over 3,600 non-residential photovoltaic systems came online in the United States – an average of 1 every 72 minutes. And as of mid-year, businesses, as well as non-profit organizations and state and municipal governments nationwide had deployed more than 2.3 GW of photovoltaic  systems on more than 24,000 individual facilities.

Today more than 100,000 Americans work at 5,600 solar energy companies across the nation in all 50 states. The industry more than doubled the amount of solar installed in the United States in the second quarter of this year, compared to 2011, and growth is expected to continue in the second half of 2012.

In addition to looking at overall capacity, the report quantifies solar deployment by number of operating solar power systems, percentage of facilities outfitted with solar, and the geographic diversity of the installations.

Edited by Becky Beetz.


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