The fact that some of the biggest corporations in the United States are now also some of the country’s biggest consumers of solar energy is not exactly breaking news. Google and Walmart are among the latest to make headlines with aggressive commitments to carbon-free operations — Google by 2030 and Walmart by 2035 — and the list keeps growing.
But the figures from a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) underline the critical role these corporate commitments to clean energy now play in ongoing market growth — especially in the absence of federal policy.
According to the report, Solar Means Business 2019, U.S. corporations added 1,286 MW of solar projects to the grid last year, accounting for just under 10% of all new solar in the U.S. This year’s figures represent a slight increase over the 1,144 MW installed in 2018, while the cumulative count for corporate solar now stands at more than 8 GW across 38,000 projects.
Best factoid from SEIA: each week, 7.2 million Americans — 2.2% of the population — shop at a Walmart with a solar installation. The retail chain led the list for new solar last year, with 122.3 MW, but was still No. 3 in the overall cumulative rankings, trailing behind chart leaders Apple and Amazon.
What’s driving the corporate sector is a combination of low prices and clean energy targets, said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO. Businesses are “walking the walk” on climate commitments, she said, while costs to install commercial PV continue to fall, 12% from 2018 to 2019 and 30% over the past five years.
Covid-19 has delayed some smaller commercial projects, but overall, the big players in the sector are moving ahead with their planned installations. Other key trends cited in the report include corporations’ continuing investments in off-site solar projects, which now represent about one-third of all corporate capacity. Off-site projects totaling 5 GW are expected to go online by 2022.
The fast growth of storage is also pulling more corporate players and larger projects into the solar market. The report highlights projects such as the Rob Roy Gigawatt installations in Nevada, being developed by data center operator Switch and slated to be one of the largest behind-the-meter solar and storage projects in the world.
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