The One Simple Thing That Every Big Box Retailer Should Do To Their Stores

Big box retailers could install solar panels on their roofs and parking lots and produce over 50 million megawatts hours of energy.

By Charlene Badasie | Updated

big box retailers; solar panels

America’s obsession with Big Box retailers isn’t going to fade any time soon. These locations are known for their bulk buying opportunities and cost-saving deals. The giant buildings, spanning across large amounts of land, are hard to miss too. But the most interesting thing about them is their massive rooftops which hold untapped potential for solar panels.

The large surface area of big box retailers’ rooftops is the perfect location for solar panels. According to a 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the stores could provide almost 109,000 acres of solar-panel rooftop real estate. That’s enough to produce more than 50 million megawatt hours of electricity a year.

That means big box retailers could power approximately 5.2 million households with the 477 megawatts of solar power generated per year, Time reports. While that might sound unlikely at first, it becomes a very viable option after doing the math. According to NREL, the average Walmart has approximately 180,000 square feet of roof space.

That would support solar panels that could generate more than a megawatt of power, which is enough solar energy to power 200 homes. Additionally, a study by High Country News says that if all the big box retailers in California maxed out their solar panel potential, they would produce the same volume of energy as the state’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear reactor.

If big box retailers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming did the same, they would see a potential energy-generating capacity of 4,889 megawatts. That’s five times the amount of current solar panel generating capacity in those states. If parking lots are added to the equation, the generating potential is even greater.

A previous study by Time says the 861 square miles of parking area at big box stores could be covered with solar panels to produce 422 thousand megawatts of clean energy. That’s about 450 percent more than the nation’s current solar capacity of 74,900 megawatts. If Los Angeles covered its 18.6 million parking spaces with solar panels, the state would produce an extra 44,800 megawatts of power.

That’s 37 times the capacity of California’s proposed Rexford 1 and 2 Solar Project which is slated to open in 2026. Solar power is already the fastest-growing form of electricity generation in the United States. According to Frontier Group, the capacity increased greatly between 2010 and 2021 without the help of big box retailers. Solar energy is also becoming more budget-friendly.

Still, America has only just begun to use all its solar resources. With solar panels, the country currently has the potential to produce 78 times more electricity than it used in 2020. But only 2.2 percent of all electricity generation came from solar panels during that time. That means there are opportunities to accelerate the transition by using the rooftops of big box retailers.  

Big box retailers with the most solar panels installed as of 2019 include Amazon, Walmart, and Target. Collectively, their installations generated almost 1.4 gigawatts of capacity in that year, Solar Means Business reported at the time. That’s more than 11 percent of the total commercial solar capacity installed in the U.S. as of 2019.

While the progress is amazing, there are still many big box retailers whose rooftops could be generating clean energy to combat climate change, help communities, increase resilience, and reduce their energy expenses.