Wal-Mart Looks to Sun to Save Environment – and Money

Wal-Mart Stores has launched a 10-year pilot project to use solar power at 22 Wal-Mart sites in California and Hawaii, the company announced Monday.

Solar energy providers SunEdison, PowerLight and BP Solar will supply an estimated 20 million kilowatt-hours per year across the Wal-Mart locations, making this one of the largest solar power initiatives in the United States.

Each solar energy system will provide as much as 30 percent of the power used at the store at which it is installed, with a net effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500 to 10,000 metric tons per year, according to Wal-Mart.

The project is part of an effort to determine solar power viability for Wal-Mart.

Immediate Savings

“We are taking aggressive steps towards our goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy,” said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart. “The pilot project is yet another example of Wal-Mart’s commitment to making decisions that are good for business and the environment.”

“Pilot project stores are expected to achieve savings over their current utility rates immediately — as soon as the first day of operation,” added David Ozment, director of energy for Wal-Mart.

SunEdison will provide four solar power systems in Hawaii and four in California, while PowerLight and BP Solar will each supply seven systems in California. The installations are subject to receiving the appropriate permits and approvals in their respective states.

‘A Win-Win’

Wal-Mart will use the power generated by the solar panels on-site at each store and will also keep the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) the units produce, which is unusual in most solar power purchases.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant is also testing renewable energy technologies in its experimental stores in Texas and Colorado.

“Wal-Mart’s sustainability strategy is tremendous from a public-relations standpoint, and it’s also in keeping with its cost-control strategies,” said Michael Bergdahl, an author and former Wal-Mart executive.

“Wal-Mart is driven by the good things that come out of sustainability,” he told TechNewsWorld, “so if they can make it work and save some money, it’s a win-win.”

‘A Strong Signal’

George Douglas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, agreed.

“It’s all good — I can’t see a downside here for anybody,” he stated.

Wal-Mart’s decision to use solar energy is an indication that the technology works in a mainstream setting and can be cost-effective, Douglas added.

“Wal-Mart’s not doing this for publicity reasons; they’re doing it because they think they can save money ultimately,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If it’s smart for Wal-Mart, it’s likely to be a smart business decision for other companies too.”

Whereas in recent years European demand for solar energy has far outpaced that in the United States, Wal-Mart’s move sends a strong signal to the financial community that there is a healthy U.S. market for solar energy, Douglas added. “The impact will be great on the solar energy industry,” he said. “Perhaps it will help finance some expansion.”

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