Commercial-scale solar rooftop power up by 183% in 2015

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Leading U.S. businesses generated 907 megawatts of solar energy from photovoltaic arrays installed on warehouses, retail stores and other commercial buildings in 2015.

That represented a 183 percent increase in on-site solar generation by reporting businesses since 2012, according to data released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

In its latest “Solar Means Business” report, SEIA found that early corporate adopters of photovoltaic technology have expanded their portfolios, in some cases substantially, over the last four years. At the same time, a growing number of new companies are investing in solar, drawn by the benefits of low-cost clean energy.

“These blue-chip companies have realized investing in solar is a common-sense, cost-effective decision that pays dividends for both the environment and their bottom lines,” SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said in a statement. “Not only are they helping to create thousands of American jobs in solar, the nearly 1,700 systems currently in operation are generating enough clean, reliable electricity to offset nearly 890,000 metric tons of harmful carbon emissions a year.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. topped the list of U.S. firms using on-site solar for 2015, with 142 MW of installed capacity, followed by industrial real estate firm Prologis Inc. (97.5 MW), Target Corp. (71.9 MW), Apple Inc. (60.7 MW) and Costco Wholesale Corp. (50.7 MW).

Ikea takes the lead

The U.S. division of Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea Group had the largest geographic footprint for solar among major companies, with arrays installed on stores and distribution centers in 22 states. Ikea’s most recent solar project, for its store in Las Vegas, will consist of 3,620 panels built across more than 240,000 square feet of rooftop and adjacent parking areas, according to the company.

Other leading U.S. brands whose parent companies are using significant amounts of solar energy to power their operations are department stores Kohl’s and Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, FedEx, Verizon, Staples and Walgreens. Three automakers — General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen — also made SEIA’s list of leading companies relying on solar power.

Mark Vanderhelm, vice president of solar energy for Wal-Mart, said in a statement that on-site solar has become a key part of the retailer’s renewable energy strategy,

“We believe in advancing solar deployment by pursuing projects that make business sense,” Vanderhelm said in a statement. In 2014, Wal-Mart said it would double the number of on-site solar energy projects at its U.S. stores, including Sam’s Club stores and distribution centers by 2020.

N.C. ranks 3rd among states

Rob Threlkeld, General Motors’ global manager of renewable energy, said the company’s 30 MW of on-site solar generation capacity has helped “reduce our spending on traditional energy but also reduces business risk and our impact on climate change.” In October, GM announced it would build an 800-kilowatt solar array in partnership with DTE Energy to help power its Warren, Mich., transmission factory. In Ohio, GM relies on a 2.2 MW solar array to power its Lordstown Chevrolet plant, and it operates a 1.8 MW solar array at its Toledo transmission factory.

GM has established a goal to self-generate 125 megawatts of power using renewable resources by 2025.

Led by Apple and, the information technology sector has also seen a significant uptick in solar power consumption over the last few years, according to SEIA.

“Apple is a pioneer in this area with its pair of large 20 MW plants near their data centers in North Carolina and another 20 MW that recently came online in Nevada,” states the report. “The tech giant also recently announced a partnership to power its state of the art headquarters in Cupertino with 130 MW of solar.”

North Carolina now ranks as the nation’s No. 3 producer of dedicated solar power for business, with 46.7 MW of installed capacity. It follows California at 287 MW and New Jersey at 227 MW, according to SEIA estimates.