U.S. warehouses can host enough solar to power nearly 20 million homes


Nationwide, over 450,000 warehouses and distribution centers have 16.4 billion square feet of roof space. A report by Environment California and the Frontier Group estimates this offers the potential to generate enough electricity for about 19.4 million homes.

Generating this estimated 186 TWh of electricity would be equivalent to more than 112 million metric tons of carbon emissions avoided. This is equivalent to the emissions contribution of over 24 million gas-powered cars over the course of the year. It would also preserve an estimated 376,000 acres, nearly double the size of New York City, from being sacrificed for electricity generation.

California alone is home to over 66,000 warehouses and distribution centers with 1.5 billion square feet of roof surface area, soaking up sun, ready to be turned into distributed clean energy generation centers. The electricity demand of nearly 5 million California homes could be met by installing solar on these buildings.

The report noted that Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Texas have great potential, as well, and contains an interactive map for viewing each state’s solar warehouse potential.

Placing electricity generation closer to where it is needed reduces line losses, which occur when electricity travels along imperfect conductive wires. The Energy Information Administration reports that 5.2% of gross electricity generation is lost to transmission line losses. Furthermore, placing generation closer to demand centers reduces the need for expensive and land-intensive transmission infrastructure.

Altogether, the report estimates that warehouses on average could produce 176% of their annual energy needs, allowing them to export excess production to their communities.

The environmental organizations recommend that warehouse and distribution center decision makers investigate, catalog and report energy use and climate effects of their business. Wielding political influence, these industry leaders can advocate for supportive policies for solar on warehouses.

(Read: “New Jersey warehouse operator provides community solar access to 700 residents“) 

The report also recommends that political leaders at every level support legislation like net metering, feed-in tariffs, and value-of-solar payments to boost this market. Enabling financing tools like third-party and Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-OACE) financing can help remove barriers to adoption. Streamlining and lowering costs of solar permitting and interconnection costs would make the process easier and faster as well, it said.

Heading into Earth Day, Environment California will be joined by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a rooftop solar array on a 180,000 square foot warehouse in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger will ceremonially “plug in” the panels and speak about the benefits of such projects.

“Putting solar on warehouse roofs is not just a great environmental decision, it’s also a smart business decision. More warehouse owners should use these ideal spots to produce clean energy, avert harmful pollution, increase the value of their property, and save on their electricity bills,” said Terry Tamminen, president and CEO of AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles.

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