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Renewable Energy Hits the Roof


During 2011, Walmart successfully completed 35 solar projects in Arizona, California and Puerto Rico. Eight of these projects utilize thin-film solar, which significantly reduces the use of raw materials compared to traditional crystalling panels. This thin film solar project in Avondale, Arizona, is expected to provide 20 to 30 percent of the store's energy needs. Photo - Walmart Corporate under Creative Commons License

by John Brian Shannon

Several major retailers with worldwide operations are busily installing solar panels on top of their 'big-box' retail stores and offices. Walmart, Walgreens, IKEA and others, are spending huge sums of money to cover their rooftop spaces with solar panels -- and are installing wind turbines at, or near, their retail store locations.

Walmart is the world's largest retailer and is fully committed to obtaining 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sources. As Walmart continues to add stores around the world and increase its car and truck fleets, it bases its calculations for CO2 emissions (from all sources) on the calculation of tonnes of CO2 used/emitted - per $1 million U.S. dollars of retail sales.

In 2005, Walmart operations emitted just over 60 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) it took in from retail sales. While adding more stores and adding capacity to existing stores, that ratio had decreased to just over 50 tons of CO2 per $1 million (USD) by 2009. This lowering of CO2 emissions occurred during a period of unprecedented growth for the chain, which means that Walmart got a lot more energy-efficient.

In addition to solar panels on its rooftops and wind turbines on its properties, Walmart is purchasing green energy from utility companies which operate solar and wind power plants, via power purchase agreements (PPA's).

"We are in the second year of a four-year agreement to purchase clean energy from a state-of-the-art Duke Energy wind farm in Notrees, Texas. The agreement supplies up to 15 percent of the energy needs in 350 of our Texas locations. It has reduced our carbon emissions by 139,000 metric tons per year, which is the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road or eliminating the CO2 produced by 18,000 homes annually, raising environmental quality and quality of life in the communities we serve." -- Walmart

"And in Canada: The opening of the Balzac Fresh Food Distribution Centre on November 10, 2010, marked a major ­milestone. With hydrogen fuel cells used to power forklifts, as well as solar thermal and wind power, the 400,000-square-foot facility serves as a living lab for ­sustainability. It will boost energy efficiency by an estimated 60 percent over the company's traditional refrigerated centres, while cutting costs by USD $4.83 million over the next five years." – Walmart

Walgreens, which owns and operates 8000 stores is building the first of many Net Zero Buildings – so designated for producing as much electricity as they use and often producing surplus electricity to sell to the local grid.

The first such store will be located at Evanston, Illinois, and according to Energy Manager Today, the store will include:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels,
  • two wind turbines,
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more constant and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer,
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting,
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials.

Engineering estimates, which can vary due to factors such as weather, store operations and systems performance, indicate the store will use 200,000 kWh per year while generating 256,000 kWh per year.

Walgreens will attempt to have the store achieve LEED Platinum status from the US Green Building Council, and plans to enter the store into the International Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge. The store will be Walgreens second showcase project in the Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, Walgreens has committed to a chain-wide 20 percent energy reduction by 2020.

"The Better Buildings Challenge is gaining momentum. Recently, Sprint became the first telecommunications company to join the program. And more than 100 companies have joined the DOE's Better Plants program." Energy Manager Today

IKEA has a robust renewable energy program dedicated to 100% energy self-sufficiency by 2020 with plans to spend 1.5 billion euros by 2015 towards that goal.

IKEA Group's chief sustainability officer, Steve Howard said "within three years, IKEA will receive 70% of its electricity from renewable energy [which] we own and operate" adding, "We'll expand that from 2015 - 2020 to 100 per cent".

In reference to utility-supplied electricity rate spikes anticipated by IKEA, Howard said, "We know we're going to be using energy in 20 years' time. If we can own our own renewable energy plants, it gives us complete price certainty."

It appears that major users of electricity such as 'big box' stores and other large commercial spaces are predicting higher prices for utility-supplied electricity -- and rather than pay those higher rates, are opting for their own solar and wind power plants. As polysilicon solar panel prices have fallen in price almost every month since September 2010 and continue to fall in price (bottoming-out in June or July of 2013) you may yet see solar panel installations appearing on many large buildings featuring (largely empty) rooftop spaces and on the rooftop of your favourite retail store.

John Brian Shannon is a writer who lives on Canada's west coast. Green energy, sustainability and economics, are his favorite blog topics. His articles appear in the Huffington Post, EnergyBoom, Arabian Gazette and other quality publications. 

Check out John's personal blog at http://johnbrianshannon.com



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Late-breaking information to add to this article:

Vodacom, South Africa, installs the Biggest solar installation on one roof in Africa in Capetown, SA.

Please visit this link to read the article and to view an excellent YouTube video, detailing the projects success: http://www.thegreentimes.co.za/stories/energy/item/1930-biggest-solar-installation-on-one-roof-in-africa

Cheers! JBS