As the world's largest retailer and biggest private employer, Walmart commands attention from Wall Street to Main Street. But it's not what's happening inside Walmart stores making news this week -- it's what's happening on top of them.
The annual Solar Means Business Report, which identifies major commercial solar projects and ranks America's top corporate solar users, was released this week by SEIA and Vote Solar. The report found that Walmart is America's commercial solar leader for the second year in a row with 89 megawatts (MW) installed at 215 locations.
Other companies on the Top 25 list include Costco, Kohl's, Apple, IKEA, Macy's, Johnson & Johnson, McGraw Hill, Staples, Campbell's Soup, U.S. Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kaiser Permanente, Volkswagen, Walgreens, Target, Safeway, FedEx, Intel, L'OREAL, General Motors, Toys "R" Us, White Rose Foods, Toyota, and Dow Jones & Company.
Combined, these companies have deployed 445 MW of solar capacity -- a 48 percent increase over a year ago. Collectively, they're playing an increasingly important role in the development, expansion and promotion of solar nationwide, while also reducing their operating expenses, benefiting customers and shareholders alike.
Today, the list of companies moving to clean, affordable solar energy reads like a 'Who's Who' of the most successful corporations in America. Simply put, these iconic brands are leading the way when it comes to efforts to transition to clean, renewable energy. By doing so, they're also helping to create thousands of American jobs, boost the U.S. economy and improve our environment.
Solar growth among these Fortune 100 companies reflects the growth in the U.S. commercial solar sector as a whole. Through the first half of this year, cumulative commercial solar deployment totaled 3,380 MW at 32,800 facilities throughout the country -- a whopping 40 percent increase from last year.
Nowhere is this success and growth in the commercial market more evident than at Apple's massive solar farm and fuel cell facility in Maiden, N.C, which is now providing clean energy for its $1 billion, 500,000 square-foot data center. This is one of the largest non-utility owned systems in the world and is part of Apple's bold and visionary plan to use 100 percent clean energy for all its data centers.
For its part, Walmart recently announced that it would ramp up construction of new clean energy projects nationwide, including an expanded use of solar. The company's decision to increase its clean energy projects by six-fold puts Walmart on a clear path to become 100 percent supplied by renewable energy by 2020. This "lead-by-example" approach will not only benefit the company's 2 million employees and 150 million shoppers, but it will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help the U.S. economy and stimulate American innovation. It's a win-win for everyone.
But the growth of solar in the United States isn't limited to commercial businesses -- it's spread across all sectors. Today, there are nearly 40 utility-scale, clean energy solar projects under construction in the U.S. -- utilizing both PV and CSP technologies -- putting thousands of electricians, steelworkers and laborers to work, while helping reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
These new projects feature state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technologies. BrightSource Energy is building the first commercial-scale solar "power tower" in the U.S. that will come online later this year. First Solar and GE are working on advanced inverter technology to provide better integration to the transmission grid. And Abengoa Solar's Solana power plant -- which began commercial operation just 2 weeks ago -- features six hours of thermal energy storage, enabling it to deliver electricity long after the sun has gone down.
In addition, innovative solar heating and cooling systems are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, another new report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.
Per a press release from the SEIA:
"Today, approximately 44 percent of American energy consumption is attributable to heating and cooling. According to projections by BEAM Engineering, ramping up the installation of SHC systems across America would allow the U.S. to generate nearly 8 percent of its total heating and cooling needs through clean, affordable solar energy."
Meanwhile, a new market analysis by SEIA and GTM Research shows the U.S. installed 832 MW of new PV capacity in the second quarter of this year -- a healthy 15 percent increase over the first three months of 2013. Even more impressively, the U.S. residential solar market has grown by almost 50 percent over Q2 2012.
What's spurring this growth? For one thing, solar energy is now more affordable than ever. Average PV system prices have declined by more than 40 percent since the beginning of 2011, while average module prices have declined by more than 60 percent over the same time period.
Today, leading brand name companies in the United States are listening to what Americans want and taking decisive action. If only Congress worked as well!