Walmart Expands Use of Cutting-edge Solar Technology

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will ramp up its renewable-energy efforts by adding solar generating systems to another 20 to 30 locations in California and Arizona, the majority of which will feature lighter, more cost-effective thin film solar 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,” noted Kim Saylors Laster, VP of energy at Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart. “Developing and incorporating new renewable energy sources, like thin film, reduces energy price risk and aligns very well with our commitment to solving business challenges through technology.”

Once fully implemented, the project will supply as much as 20 percent to 30 percent of the total energy needs for each location; produce up to 22.5 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, enough to power more than 1,750 homes per year; avoid producing over 11,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, which equates to taking more than 3,000 vehicles off the road for a year; and augment the 31 solar installations the mega-retailer already has in California and Hawaii.

In asnwer to a query from Progressive Grocer, Walmart noted that the installations were already underway, and that it expected them to be completed in the next 12 months.

Thin film solar panels resemble traditional crystalline panels but need fewer raw materials to manufacture, resulting in a smaller environmental impact over their life cycle. Both of the Walmart projects are employing copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride thin film. The retailer believes that its large-scale on-site installation of CIGS could help further the development of the technology and bring it to market more quickly, while use of cadmium telluride thin film could help persuade other businesses to adopt the technology themselves.

Selected through an RFP process by Walmart and the Environmental Defense Fund, SolarCity, will design, install, own and maintain the new solar power systems. As well as the 500 green jobs the installations will create or support in California and Arizona, The projects are supporting green jobs at plants in Ohio and California, where the majority of the thin film is made.

“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,” said Gwen Ruta, VP for corporate partnerships at Washington-based EDF. “It’s the kind of innovation we need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution.”

“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,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of Foster City, Calif.-based SolarCity.

The projects are receiving financing from PG&E Corp. and National Bank of Arizona, in addition to incentives from the APS Renewable Energy Incentive Program and the California Solar Initiative.

Working toward its goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, Walmart in the United States also purchases wind energy in Texas, and is testing fuel cells and small wind turbines; in Mexico buys energy from an area wind farm for 348 facilities and has installed solar panels on two facilities; and in Canada is testing geothermal, fuel cells, solar and wind, and is the biggest corporate purchaser of low-emission power through a local provider of clean, renewable energy.

Walmart operates 8,400 retail units under 55 banners in 15 countries.

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