Big-box stores could help slash emissions and save millions by putting solar panels on roofs. Why aren’t more of them doing it? | CNN

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**Big-box stores could benefit from solar panels on roofs to reduce emissions and save money. Why aren’t more adopting this approach? | CNN**

As the United States endeavors to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels and transition to cleaner energy sources, experts are looking towards big-box stores and shopping centers as a potential solution. These retail giants, such as Walmart, Target, and Costco, have vast rooftop and parking space that remains largely unused, presenting an opportunity for solar power implementation. By harnessing solar energy, these stores could help the US decrease its dependence on foreign energy, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, and achieve significant cost savings.

For instance, the IKEA store in Baltimore saw a substantial reduction in energy costs by 57% between September and December 2020 after installing solar panels on its roof and parking lot, contributing to an 84% decrease in purchased energy. IKEA has extended this initiative to 90% of its US locations with 54 solar arrays installed as of February 2021.

A report by Environment America and Frontier Group revealed that big-box stores and shopping centers have the potential to generate half of their annual electricity needs from solar energy. Exploiting this solar energy potential fully could produce enough electricity to power nearly 8 million average homes and reduce planet-warming emissions equivalent to removing 11.3 million gas-powered cars from the roads.

With an average of 180,000 square feet of rooftop space, a Walmart store could support solar energy production capable of powering approximately 200 homes. Advocates emphasize that tapping into rooftop solar energy presents an opportunity to move away from fossil fuels, addressing both energy dependence and geopolitical conflicts associated with them.

Although there are clear benefits to embracing solar energy, only a small number of big-box stores in the US have adopted solar panels on their roofs or parking canopies. The implementation of solar energy in big-box retail could not only lead to environmental advantages but also drive economic growth in local communities and address the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized groups. More action from retailers is needed to realize the full potential of solar power utilization.Costco and Target should consider investing in more rooftop solar to reduce costs and curb fossil fuel emissions. While solar energy is seen as a straightforward solution by many experts, the companies face challenges such as regulations, labor costs, and the structural integrity of rooftops.

As the climate crisis intensifies, the need for clean energy initiatives becomes increasingly urgent, according to Edwin Cowen, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Cornell University. He emphasizes the importance of incentivizing rooftop solar installations to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

Walmart, with its vast rooftop space across thousands of stores in the US, has significant solar energy potential. The company could generate enough electricity to power over 842,000 homes, showcasing the substantial impact it could make by embracing rooftop solar.

Despite being involved in renewable energy projects globally, Walmart has primarily focused on wind and solar initiatives rather than rooftop solar installations. Environment America has encouraged Walmart to commit to incorporating solar panels on roofs and parking lots to maximize its renewable energy efforts.

Target leads in on-site solar capacity, with around a quarter of its stores equipped with rooftop solar panels. These installations contribute significantly to meeting a portion of the company’s energy needs, ranging from 15% to 40% across various properties.

Similarly, Costco has rooftop solar installations in 121 stores worldwide, with a significant portion located in the US. Embracing solar energy can help these retail giants make a substantial impact in reducing their carbon footprint and promoting sustainability.Walmart, Target, and Costco have not disclosed to CNN the main obstacles they face in installing rooftop or parking lot solar panels on more of their stores.

Approximate number of households that companies could power with rooftop solar:
– Walmart — 842,700
– Target — 259,900
– Home Depot — 256,600
– Kroger — 192,500
– Costco — 87,500
(Source: Environment America, Frontier Group report, “Solar on Superstores”)

According to Neumann, there might be a need for a stronger business case to deviate from their usual operations. Companies have historically viewed their rooftops as mere protective covers for their stores; however, Neumann emphasized the importance of reimagining them as energy generators.

Home Depot, with approximately 2,300 stores, has completed 75 rooftop solar projects, has 12 in progress, and plans over 30 for future development. Craig D’Arcy, the company’s director of energy management, mentioned that solar power fulfills about half of these stores’ energy requirements.

D’Arcy stated that aging store rooftops present a significant obstacle to solar installation. If a roof needs replacement within the next 15 to 20 years, or sooner, adding solar systems today may not be financially viable for Home Depot.

Home Depot’s goal is to implement rooftop solar where it makes economic sense. Similarly, Kroger, with around 2,800 stores in the US, is also evaluating the feasibility of solar installations on its properties based on various factors, including rooftop capability.

According to Cowen, a professor at Cornell, while solar energy is appealing, labor costs, incentives, and regulatory complexities pose financial challenges for solar installations. Each installation typically involves hiring local firms familiar with local policies, adding an extra layer of complexity to the process.

Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois, who co-chairs the power sector task force in the House, highlighted the lack of incentives for experts to engage in building solar infrastructure. He pointed out that disjointed federal policies heavily favor fossil energy over clean energy production, hindering progress in solar adoption.

Charles Callaway, director of organizing at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, emphasized the importance of enhancing rooftop solar capacity in large retail stores, suggesting it as a straightforward solution, especially for companies.Allowing the local community to benefit from solar power could come in the form of creating installation jobs or sharing the electricity generated. This initiative could significantly contribute to combating the climate crisis and facilitating a just transition away from fossil fuels, as mentioned by Callaway in an interview with CNN.

In an effort to promote social equity and sustainability, a New York City resident spearheaded a worker training program to educate over 100 local community members, predominantly people of color, in becoming solar installers. Furthermore, he established a solar workers cooperative to help program participants secure employment in a competitive market.

Over the past couple of years, Callaway’s group has not only installed solar panels on affordable housing roofs but has also implemented solar energy-generating equipment with a capacity of 2 megawatts on shopping malls in upstate New York. Emphasizing the importance of hiring locally, he highlighted that employing local installers would be most advantageous due to their familiarity with the community and local regulations.

The issue of social equity in access to renewable energy was addressed by Cowen, who emphasized the need to eliminate the privilege associated with renewable energy access.

Jasmine Graham, the energy justice policy manager at WE ACT, expressed optimism about the potential of incorporating rooftop solar systems on large retail stores as long as the projects prioritize local labor, offer fair wages, and utilize the solar energy for community benefit, such as providing utility bill discounts to residents in the same utility zone.

The urgency for global leaders to take decisive action on the climate crisis was underscored following a warning from a UN report in late February, signaling the narrowing timeframe for effective intervention.

Neumann is optimistic about the United States meeting its energy needs through renewable sources. She believes that with political determination and community involvement, the nation can transition successfully while ensuring that no one is left behind.

Neumann stressed that expediting this transition will lead to cleaner air, a healthier environment, and a more sustainable future for future generations, acknowledging that while this transformation may require investment, it is an investment well worth making.

[Source: [CNN](]

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