Commercial Solar Installations

Walmart Solar Roof

Residential solar is something that we can see growing. The number of houses in our neighborhoods with solar panels on their roof is growing steadily. Harder to see, and generally at a much, much larger scale, are commercial solar installations. Not utility companies building solar generation capabilities, but companies with large buildings installing solar on their building roofs.

These are not just tech companies, or names you would typically associate with progressive environment policies (like Ikea, who do have solar panels all over the roof of their store near here in Emeryville). The three examples I found recently with massive solar roof installations were Macy’s, Walmart and Cinemark.


While I was looking at satellite pics on Google Maps for another project, I noticed a large solar panel installation on top of a store. Investigating further, I discovered that was a Macy’s store, and even more interestingly they have a large project to add solar to their stores and distribution facilities. That same project, Macy’s Green Living, also covers other aspects of reducing Macy’s environmental impact.

Image from Google Maps

The site also has a solar dashboard showing their daily solar energy production, and what that means for the environment, as well as year-to-date numbers for each metric. Here’s the data from today:

Macy’s Solar Dashboard

These are large solar installations; the largest, at their Minooka distribution center, is 6,108 panels (a typical residential installation might be 10-15 panels).


Even more surprising for me was the fact that Walmart is also doing this at their stores, end not only that but seem to have been a pioneer in solar energy, starting earlier than most and leading the way in power generated. As of mid-2014, they had 240 stores with solar installations, and they are committed to solar energy in a big way.

Walmart Solar Roof


Another surprise for me was to find a movie theatre with a roof covered in solar panels:

Image from Google Maps

That is a Cinemark movie theatre in Texas. Just like Macy’s and Walmart, Cinemark has a sustainability program, and that program covers more than just solar power (recycling, HVAC improvements, lighting etc). On that site, they include links to the solar monitoring system dashboard for several theaters. Here’s the one from the Texas location shown above (taken after dark, so it was not generating at the time, but shows what it did during the day):

Movie theaters are an interesting choice for solar since they are typically not open in the morning, but they are open well after the sun has set. Given the amount of after dark use, they may well be good candidates for battery storage systems to further reduce their dependency on grid power.

Why Do This?

Why would large, public companies be spending vast sums of money installing solar panels on their roofs? There is obviously the sustainability aspect of the projects, which is good public relations and good for the planet, but I doubt investors in these companies would be happy with just that. Given that, these installations must also be making financial sense, reducing costs over time. The Macy’s solar dashboard included a savings metric, which is currently at over $350K this year; in a little over a month. That’s over $4 million in a year (probably higher since the month that was based on was January, perhaps the worst winter weather month).

Welcome to the future. A future where, at least for part of the day, we can all generate our own electricity free of charge & without polluting the air or destroying natural resources. Imagine if every large building had solar on its roof, or used transparent solar panels for its windows (useful in the case of high rise buildings). Combined with batteries (or other energy storage methods, such as water splitters producing hydrogen for use in fuel cells after dark), we may be able to realize a fully distributed grid that is less susceptible to failure of a single location. These companies are leading the way, and in addition to helping make the planet a cleaner place, they’re saving money.

Know any other large companies doing this? Let me know in the comments.

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