Walmart Solar: Good, Yes, But Mostly A No-Brainer

Walmart on Monday announced its 100th solar installation in California, which merits props, and props we shall give it. But didn’t Bloomberg go a little off the rails when it busted out that headline, “Wal-Mart Beats Apple, Ikea in U.S. Solar Installations”?

It’s true, but Walmart also has more than 4,000 retail outlets in the United States. Apple has a headquarters, a handful of operations centers and a few server farms (we’re not going to count its stores, which are small and typically in malls). Ikea? A mere 38 stores in the United States.

walmart solar

Walmart’s new San Diego solar installation (image via Walmart)

That doesn’t mean it’s not good that Walmart “expects to have as much as 90 megawatts” of solar capacity by the end of this year (compared to Ikea’s expected 38 MW). We’re happy to see Walmart do some serious solar, because we suppose that if it wanted to, Walmart could do no solar whatsoever, although that would be stupid.

Which is actually the point of this article.

Last week, after we waxed admiring of Ikea and its commitment to solar power, an acquaintance reacted with a question that stopped us in our tracks: “Why wouldn’t they go solar?”

Said acquaintance had recently heard us carry on about the solar bids we’d received for our little house here in Portland, Ore., the least attractive of which – given the incentives available and the plunging cost of installed solar – would have paid for itself in five years and thereafter stuffed money in our pockets. Not surprisingly, the more capital we were willing to put out upfront, the more lucrative going solar would be down the road for us.

The point being: For the average homeowner, going solar is a money-saver, pure and simple; and for a behemoth like Walmart, the solar opportunities these days are ridiculously attractive.

In its press release announcing the milestone California installation, in San Diego, Walmart quoted Mary D. Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, saying, “Walmart is a shining example of corporate leadership. Its commitment to sustainable operations and renewable energy has helped create local jobs, reduce costs for its own operations, and protect the environment.”

Exactly!

“Walmart’s solar power initiatives shows how companies can help bring cost-effective energy solutions to scale as part of ‘business-as-usual,’” added Gwen Ruta, vice president of Environmental Defense Fund’s Corporate Partnership Program.

Right!

Walmart is reducing the costs of its operations. It’s being cost-effective. This is the reality of going solar these days, especially for giant corporations with more than a little cash at their disposal. It’s no sacrifice for societal good (even if it does benefit society), no noble deed (good deed though it is).

So, solar on, Walmart — profit is a good thing.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.