Retailers and renewables

Vicky Kenrick

Part 1. Some of the world's leading organisations are actively promoting and investing in the production of renewable energy, as Vicky Kenrick reports.

The growth in renewable energy development is attributable not only to the utility companies seeking to comply with carbon emission reduction requirements, but also to the sustainability efforts of corporate organisations including large retailers.

In fact, retailers are increasingly adopting renewable energy not only to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability but as a long-term move towards owning cleaner energy production facilities themselves.

As competition intensifies to be the greenest brand within the marketplace, there are increasing numbers of retailers that have decided to include renewable energy development as part of their corporate sustainability strategy. An overwhelming majority of FTSE 500 companies now voluntarily measure, manage, and publicly disclose their carbon emissions; and a collection of hi-tech solutions, clean technologies and market tools have evolved in recent years to meet these demands.

Driving change through a corporate sustainability strategy is a constant challenge. However an impressive 81% of the CEOs surveyed by The Guardian newspaper recently stated that sustainability issues are now ‘fully embedded’ into their companies' strategy and operations. Many extend this focus to subsidiaries and supply chains, specifically including the procurement and investment in renewable energy sources.

It is clear that organisations which harness renewable energy, and even better, generate it, will be strong contenders in the drive to become the most sustainable businesses across the globe – retailers and consumer goods brands are leading the way.

A retail revolution

Within the UK, leading companies like ASDA, IKEA, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have all set a target of using 100% renewable energy by 2015. In the US, Walmart (the parent company to the UK's ASDA), Costco, Kohl's and Macy's top the corporate retail solar users in terms of on-site capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

As recently as August this year, retail giant Walmart marked a special renewable energy target of its own in California —its 100th store to be powered entirely by rooftop solar power opened in San Diego. It was a significant step towards Walmart's plan to use only 100% renewable energy sources.

“By using one of California's greatest resources – sunshine – and employing renewable technology with our California-based partners, we will continue developing solutions that are both good for the environment and good for business,” said Kimberly Sentovich, Senior Vice President of the Pacific Division for Walmart.

The local community in California is also benefiting from the company's renewable energy projects, Sentovich added. It recruits up to 50 contractors per solar rooftop project, while contributing to the 3000 California-based contract construction jobs through the solar company, SolarCity.

According to Walmart, its efforts in going towards solar power in California will create 70 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable clean power each year. That's approximately the same as powering more than 5400 homes.

SEIA's study highlighting the top 20 commercial users of solar panels noted the rapidly falling cost of solar energy has made it an increasingly appealing investment for businesses. In terms of retailers in the US – the average price of a completed commercial PV system has fallen by nearly 14% between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012. So for the majority of retailers it is more cost-effective to install solar than to buy electricity from the local utility, the report suggested.

But it is not just solar power catching the eyes of retailers. Walmart also has an active interest in the production and development of wind power – installing its first large 265-foot-high wind turbine in Red Bluff earlier this year. GE's 1MW turbine is expected to supply 20% of the local store's energy and the energy produced from the turbine will be purchased under a 15-year agreement with Foundation Wind power in Silicon Valley.

“We are using every tool in the tool box as we work toward our goal to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, and wind energy is an attractive technology for Walmart,” said Greg Pool, senior manager of renewable energy and emissions at Walmart and also project manager of the Red Bluff installation.

“Should the technology at Red Bluff prove successful, Walmart will evaluate the potential for large-scale turbine installations at other distribution center sites in the United States.”

The commissioning of its 1MW wind turbine in Red Bluff, brought Walmart's total number of renewable energy projects in operation to 180. These include:

  • A 90-megawatt wind farm in West Texas, providing 15 percent of power for over 300 Walmart stores and Sam's Clubs
  • 348 stores in Mexico supplied by wind power, providing 17percent of energy needs for Walmart de Mexico
  • Fourteen stores in Northern Ireland supplied by wind power providing 100 percent of the electricity needs for those stores
  • In Massachusetts 12 mini wind turbines power a Walmart store in Worchester and 27 stores will have solar panel installations by 2014
  • 26 fuel cell sites in California supplying energy to local Walmart stores and Sam's Clubs
  • More than 140 solar installations across six states, including its 100th solar installation in California

In part 2 - European retailers equally as proactive when it comes to renewables...

See also: 10 clean energy investments from Google

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Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power