Large areas could be 50% powered by solar energy – pv magazine USA

An analysis by Environment America found that the 100,000 big-box stores in the United States could generate 84 TWh of electricity from solar power on their rooftops.

Environment America has released analysis that shows that big-box retailers in the US could house 84 TWh of solar capacity, and that stores already house almost 10% of that number. Electricity would meet about 50% of their needs and could save these places about 25% of the roughly $17 billion a year currently spent on electricity bills.

This represents 72 gigawatts of solar capacity, or about 60% of all solar installed in the country as of January 1, 2022.

Analysis, Solar in supermarkets: large roofs, great potential for renewable energies, found that there are more than 100,000 big box stores in the United States. A big-box store is defined as having more than 25,000 square feet and less than 15 floors. In total, the stores offer more than 7.2 billion square feet of space.

Ikea, Walmart, Apple and Target have already installed a large amount of solar energy – around 1.4 GW. Ikea leads the pack with 54 installations, covering 50% of its electricity, and 90% of its stores. Target has the largest capacity with 259 MW of volume at more than 500 sites, while Walmart has installed 194 MW.

Since Apple doesn’t have a lot of big rooftops, some of the installations are floor stands.

The first ten large companies could cumulatively install around 24% of the 84 TWh of production potential.

Because Americans will use anything to measure as long as it’s not the metric system, here are some other ways to think about numbers. The average Walmart roof is as tall as three football fields. Together, the rooftops could power 8 million American homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 11.3 million gasoline-powered cars.

The report notes that solar energy also reduces the cooling needs of many stores by absorbing or reflecting heat. And if these groups incorporated energy storage into their solar projects, they could add resiliency — or more importantly — attack their power loads, which account for 30-70% of their electricity bills.

Speaking of resilience, the states with the two largest collections of big-box stores — California and Texas — also have the power grids with the most challenges.

The report’s authors suggest that politicians come up with four techniques to help big-box stores go solar in a financially viable way:

  • Allow third-party electricity sales, allowing solar developers to own and finance solar power projects, keeping the money with retailers.
  • Adopt programs like Commercial PACE, which provide off-the-books, long-term, relatively low-cost financing for 100% of projects.
  • Streamline solar permits and make permit fees affordable.
  • Introduce full or very high net metering credits.

There are a few nuances to installing on these types of roofs. Specifically, facility managers at these locations care deeply about the quality of their roof waterproofing. Leaks can obviously have very costly consequences. Additionally, these buildings are cost-effectively constructed, which means that their structural strength is usually just sufficient to meet code requirements.

Because of these two dynamics, solar is managed differently. For example, these companies generally do not allow penetrations into the roof membrane, which means that it is mandatory to use weighted or bonded systems to the roof. Additionally, some big-box retailers will re-roof every five to ten years. This means that the solar array and the modules must go down. The economic and technical realities of this procedure must be taken into account in the financial models.

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