20 September 2010


Walmart to add solar energy generation at 20–30 more sites in California and Arizona

Wal-Mart Stores Inc plans to add to its 31 existing solar installations in California and Hawaii with solar generating systems at another 20–30 sites in California and Arizona, mostly featuring lighter, lower-cost thin-film photovoltaic technology.

“By leveraging our global scale to become a more efficient company, we are able to lower our expenses and help develop markets for new technologies,” says Kim Saylors Laster, VP of energy for Walmart, which has more than 8400 retail units in 15 countries, yielding sales of $405bn in fiscal 2010. “Developing and incorporating new renewable energy sources, like thin film, reduces energy price risk,” he adds.

When complete, the project is expected to: supply up to 20–30% of the total energy needs for each location; produce up to 22.5 million kW-hrs of energy per year (enough to power more than 1750 homes annually); and avoid producing more than 11,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually (equal to taking more than 3000 vehicles off the road for a year).

SolarCity, which will design, install, own and maintain the new solar power systems on Walmart locations, was selected through a request for proposal (RFP) process spearheaded by Walmart and the national environmental group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The goal was to identify the most innovative solar technologies that would create benefits on three fronts: to the environment, technology, and financial viability.

The new Walmart projects will use both copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film modules. The firm reckons that its large-scale on-site installation of CIGS could help to further the development of the technology and bring it to market more quickly, while its use of CdTe could help to make the case for other businesses to adopt the technology for on-site commercial use.

“The combination of Walmart’s market power and EDF’s rigor could provide the scale and credibility needed to bring next-generation solar technology more fully into the marketplace,” believes Gwen Ruta, EDF’s VP for corporate partnerships. “It’s the kind of innovation we need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution.”

In addition to the 500 jobs the project installations will create or support in California and Arizona, the projects are also supporting jobs at facilities in Ohio and California, where most of the thin-film PV modules are manufactured, says Walmart.

“Thanks in part to the economies of scale created by pioneers like Walmart, it’s now possible for many American businesses and homeowners to adopt solar power and pay less than they currently pay for electricity from polluting sources,” says SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive. “This project was made possible in part by financing from PG&E Corp and National Bank of Arizona, as well as incentives from the APS Renewable Energy Incentive Program [which offers financial incentives to customers adding renewable energy systems to their homes or business] and the California Solar Initiative.” The program is funded by APS customers and approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Walmart says it is using a number of technologies around the world to make progress towards its goal of being supplied by 100% renewable energy. For example, in the USA, Walmart purchases wind energy in Texas, and is testing fuel cells and small wind turbines. In Mexico, Walmart is buying energy from a local wind farm for 348 facilities and has installed solar panels on two facilities. In Canada, Walmart is testing geothermal, fuel cells, solar and wind, and is the largest corporate purchaser of low-emission power through a local provider of clean, renewable energy.

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