Big Box Stores Use Big Roofs for Energy

Its an emotional struggle each time you visit a big box store. You know they pose a threat to local businesses, they sell products made in sweat shops, they treat their employees badly and destroy acres of land with huge impervious structures. The problem is, they do it all while being convenient and cheap.

Apparently the retailers know your inner conflict and they are trying to reconcile their evil deeds by installing solar panels on their giant roofs. The New York Times published an article this week that documents this growing trend of national retailers using renewable energy to save money while attracting "green minded" individuals.

Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Whole Foods and Safeway have initiated programs aimed at taking advantage of a renewable energy tax credit that may expire December 31st. So far, less than 10% of the stores' locations have installed the solar panels but they may continue the program if Congress renews the renewable energy tax credit this year.

Big box stores are generally the biggest users of energy in many small communities. Their roofs provide ample space to offset that energy use. According to the Times' article, if Wal-Mart installed solar panels on all of their stores, including their Sam's stores, the result would roughly equal 23 square miles of solar panels, or an area the size of Manhattan.

The solar panels can provide 10-40% of each store's electricity needs. This is dependent on weather conditions and the store's demands. Unfortunately, solar power is still more expensive than coal or natural gas. According to an energy expert quoted in the Times' piece, a kilowatt hour of coal costs 6 cents, a kilowatt hour of natural gas costs 9 cents and a kilowatt hour of solar energy costs 25 cents.

There are many ways to bring down the cost of solar energy so that it is competitive with non-renewable sources. The most important way is by encouraging these large-scale commercial installations that increase competition among solar panel manufacturers which drives down prices and increases innovation. The federal government can encourage large-scale commercial installations by providing appropriate tax incentives that reduce barriers to initiating solar panel programs. The federal government's best existing incentive, the Renewable Energy Tax Credit, has not yet been renewed this year.

To read the full New York Times article, click HERE.

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