Solar Means Business, More than Ever

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Guest blog by NRDC legal fellow Nick Jimenez

Photo by Black Rock Solar, under Creative Commons licensing: Students at Rainshadow Community Charter High School in Reno, NV celebrate the installation solar power at their school. NRDC has a crowd-funded campaign to help bring solar power to schools, called Solar Schools: Powering Classrooms, Empowering Communities 

Prices for renewables are dropping: last week the blog talked about implications for utilities and dirty energy, this week, we note a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar Initiative (Vote Solar) shows that America’s most well known businesses continue to install solar power on-site at their facilities at an amazing clip. Since the first Solar Means Business report last year, total commercial solar installations have grown 40%, and capacity at the top 25 companies deploying solar has increased from 300MW to 445MW as of mid-2013 – enough to power 73,400 American homes.

Even companies that had already installed huge amounts of solar by 2013 found it prudent to invest in more. For example, IKEA now uses solar at 89% of its facilities, up from 79% in 2012.

This year’s report expanded to cover the top 25 companies with on-site solar, including in rank order by the capacity deployed. The top five: Walmart, Costco, Kohl’s, Apple, and IKEA..

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(Infographic by SEIA / Vote Solar)

Borrowing money for solar has also gotten easier, reducing the up-front costs and making solar systems fit more easily into an annual budget. The price of the average PV system has continued to fall dramatically, dropping 30% since 2011; which in turn was 50% lower than just a few years before. In a growing number of states, the energy generated by solar power systems can be sold into the grid, providing a revenue stream. Finally, solar can insulate a business’ energy costs from fluctuations in the retail market price because the fuel—sunshine—is free.

The report shows that the benefits of solar power apply across a broad range of geographies and climates, not only in places like the sunny Southwest. Commercial solar installations have been installed by businesses in 30 states and Puerto Rico, making them so common that 117 million Americans live within 20 miles of one of these solar power projects. (Check out the interactive map where you can see what each looks like.) Installations that were once a novelty are becoming as common as the other signature infrastructure used by large businesses, like the lights and air conditioning they power.

The appeal of solar is increasingly extending beyond the businesses that install solar at their facilities to big-name commercial investors and real estate developers. Google, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, have cumulatively invested billions in financing solar installations, which is crucial to making the up-front costs affordable. Leading real estate developers are also investing in solar at the properties they own.

As sunlight hits roof-tops every day, the cost of catching and using it continues to fall. Savvy businesspeople know a good deal when they see one, so it should be no surprise that business are moving in to solar power.