As investment in solar power increased rapidly over the past several years, many pundits pointed to the potential that big-box stores and warehouses could play in the U.S. clean-energy revolution. The reasons were obvious: These buildings offer plenty of wasted surface area that could otherwise be slathered with solar panels; they could generate power to offset their utility bills and gain financially from contributing to the local grid; and they are reasonably close to business and residential areas.
Now this scenario is becoming the reality, though 10 years ago no one would have guessed that Walmart would become the largest company by solar capacity in the U.S. Other retailers have become active investors in solar as well, including Target, Kohl’s and Macy’s. But the second largest corporate solar power generator in the U.S., warehouse operator Prologis, reveals opportunities for logistics companies and warehouse operators that take advantage of solar power’s cost benefits.
Prologis has long been engaged in the solar industry, and has touted the benefits of solar when it was still considered a fringe technology and few were convinced it could scale despite a bevy of new tax credits and other government incentives. But despite the constant fits and starts, more solar power capacity was actually installed last year in the U.S. than electricity generation coming from natural gas.
Prologis is riding this wave, and as a recent Slate article explains, the $51 billion company became adept at turning an unused asset into a revenue generator. And unlike retailers, which are often quite vocal about their solar installations, Prologis built its solar portfolio quietly and under the radar.
Prologis’ partners are all over the map, from mainstream NRG Energy and Bank of America to Green Finance SF for a project in the Bay Area. Meanwhile the company has built new warehouses that meet sustainable construction standards, such as LEED here in the U.S. and other certification programs abroad. The results are what the company says is enough solar power to electrify 15,000 homes annually. By 2020, Prologis promises to reach a total of 200 megawatts of power by adding an additional 15 MW annually across its properties worldwide.
Estimates on how much warehouse space is in the U.S. vary, but one university study suggests there is about 76 square feet of such space per capita, or about 24 trillion square feet (about 862 square miles, or larger than the area covered by New York City and Los Angeles combined). Yet much of that power lies untapped, despite the incentives available in several states.
Of the 10 largest warehouse operators in the U.S., only Kenco has disclosed any solar operations — and those are only measured in kilowatts, enough to power 40 homes. The estimated 4.5 billion square feet taken by big-box stores in America has the potential to generate 62,000 MW of solar power — imagine what could result from warehouses nationwide.
Image credit: Prologis