Rising in the parking lot at the Walmart on Northern Avenue are covered parking stalls that look to be a nice addition for people looking to shop and keep their cars cool. But there is something more than just covered parking spaces.
Looking to extend its environmental sustainability, Walmart has begun installing solar panels on the tops of those covers to supply electricity to the store.
“We set out in 2005 to increase our environmental sustainability as an essential ingredient to our company,” said Senior Manager of Sustainability Communications Chris Schroeder. “We started construction on the covered parking panels in several Arizona stores as a test because the climate is perfect for it.”
The solar power pilot project is a major step toward Walmart’s goal of having each store supplied by 100 percent renewable energy. Each solar power-generating system can provide up to 20 percent of the power for the store in which it is installed. By Walmart’s estimates, installing the solar power systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500-10,000 metric tons per year.
“Pilot project stores are expected to achieve savings over their current utility rates immediately - as soon as the first day of operation,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder said that Walmart’s environmental sustainability program has become an essential ingredient for the company doing business responsibly and successfully. As the world's largest retailer, Walmart sees the solar panels as a potential to save its customers money and help ensure a better world for generations to come.
SolarCity, a national company based in California with an office in Arizona, was hired by Walmart after the company had used them in the past.
“We work with different vendors around the country, but we have a good working relationship with SolarCity,” Schroeder said. “They own and install the panels at the stores, and we give them access to the space, then lease the equipment from them.”
Walmart is currently testing renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar power generation, in its experimental stores in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colo. Along with what they discover from these stores, the company will use the results of the pilot project and its solar power purchase to explore additional ways to achieve its renewable energy goals and determine how to move forward with solar power generation at additional Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs, and distribution centers.
Walmart announced its clean energy goal in 2005, but gave no timeline for the goal. But the company has mixed and blended a number of clean energy technologies, including wind generators in California Sam’s Club parking lots and fuel cell generation at one Lancaster, Calif. store.
“The program started in 2005 and our environmental sustainability program has three goals,” Schroeder said. “First to supply stores with 100 percent renewable energy; second to create zero waste; and finally, to sell products that sustain people and the environment.”
Currently installing the covered parking in numerous stores in Arizona, Schroeder said that a distribution center in Goodyear has had the covered parking solar panels for years.
“The employees love the covered, shaded parking, and we believe putting them at stores will help customers and give them some shade,” he said.
Each system gives the stores 15-20 percent of their electricity from the solar panels, but these are not the first panels that they have been installed at stores.
“We have rooftop solar panels on top of our stores,” Schroeder said. “We started testing them in 2006, and we currently have about 20 solar installations on rooftops.”
Walmart generates more than 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity around the world annually. It also has more than 300 renewable energy projects in operation or under development globally. With a goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy in the future, the company is ranked by the United States' Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Power Partnership program as the largest on-site green power generator in the U.S. Last year, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranked Walmart the number one retailer to use solar power in the U.S. Solar energy will continue to play a critical role in Walmart’s renewable energy portfolio, and the company aims to install solar in at least 1,000 stores in the U.S. by 2020.
The installation in Glendale is scheduled to be completed by late September or early October.