Walmart's Solar Strategy

Walmart has about 4,500 stores in the United States (which includes retail stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers).

That’s a lot of big, flat roofs: perfect for solar PV. Many stores are 80,000 to 120,000 square feet in size; some are as large as 180,00 square feet.  To date, Walmart has installed solar panels on about 200 of its stores.

Last week, Walmart announced that it was working with SolarCity to install solar panels on 12 stores throughout Ohio. (yes, Ohio!) The stores are located in Mason, Xenia, Greenville, Austintown, Middletown, Franklin, Youngstown, Toledo, Milford, Loveland, and two systems in Cincinnati.

SiliconBeat caught up with David Ozment, Walmart Senior Director of Energy, to find out what’s driving the company’s rooftop solar strategy.

“What’s driving our solar efforts is our over-reaching sustainable goal to be served by 100 percent renewable energy,” said Ozment in an interview. “We’re using solar, wind and fuel cells. Where we can make solar work financially, we’re using solar.”

(Ozment said that while 100 percent renewable energy is a goal, Walmart hasn’t set a date by which this will actually be accomplished).

The cost of solar has dropped significantly since Walmart first began installing solar on stores along the West Coast. Ohio is Walmart’s first solar project in the upper Midwest. The company is also powering 31 of its sites with Bloom Energy fuel cells and has a 1 MW wind turbine at its distribution center in Red Bluff, California. A store in Kansas has 100 percent of the interior lighting powered by LEDs; the retail giant is also looking at installing charging stations for electric vehicles.

Walmart has its share of critics, including the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which argues that the company’s energy and efficiency and renewable projects are far too small given the scale of the company’s operations. And while Walmart talks a lot about this 100 percent renewable, right now they are only at 4 percent.

“It’s impossible to grasp how big Walmart is,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self -Reliance, based in Minneapolis. “Walmart has been sophisticated in terms of how it uses sustainability to improve its public image. As a share of its overall size, its use of renewable energy is actually quite low.”

VoteSolar points out that Walmart is the nation’s #1 corporate solar customer, both for capacity and number of stores, followed by Costco, Kohl’s and Ikea.

We don’t usually think of Ohio, where natural gas is displacing coal, as being a strong solar state. But FirstSolar still manufactures in the Toledo area, and Ohio has an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (their version of a Renewable Portfolio Standard) that mandates 12 1/2 percent renewable energy by 2025. Ohio is one of the few states with an RPS with a “carve-out” for solar: 0.5 percent of electricity sales must be from solar by the year 2024, and 50 percent must be developed in state.

“Ohio is green and getting greener,” said Bill Spratley, Executive Director of the non-profit organization Green Energy Ohio. “We make the solar and are the sleeping giant in the Midwest. This commitment by Walmart is a huge statement.”

Dana Hull Dana Hull (235 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.