Throughout 2019, tech companies such as Apple and Facebook, retailers such as Walmart and Target, and other corporations from real estate companies to banks installed a combined 1,283 megawatts of new commercial solar capacity in the United States—enough to power more than 243,000 homes.
That figure comes from the Solar Energy Industries Association’s latest Solar Means Business report. After 2017, 2019 was the second largest year on record for corporate solar investments (corporations installed 1,368 megawatts of solar capacity in 2017). U.S. corporations have invested in a cumulative total of 8,300 megawatts of solar power.
SEIA’s annual report tracks both on-site (solar panels on the roof of your local Walmart or Target) and off-site (when a company gets its energy from a separate solar farm) commercial solar installations. Though slightly behind 2017 in terms of overall added solar capacity, 2019 was a record year for on-site solar installations, with 845 megawatts of solar power installed right on company premises.
The annual report also ranks the top corporate solar users, based on a company’s overall solar capacity. Apple leads the country in terms of most solar capacity, followed by Amazon, Walmart, Target, and then Google in the top five. Walmart installed the most new solar in 2019 with 122 megawatts, which increased the company’s overall solar use by 35%. Now, Walmart has a total of 331 megawatts of solar capacity overall. Each week, according to SEIA, more than 7.2 million people—2.2% of the country’s population—shop at a Walmart store with a solar installation.
The top 10 corporate solar users:
6. Kaiser Permanente
This surge in solar power is a result of both corporate environmental commitments and the fact that solar can save these companies money, says SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “The costs for solar have come down so much that most companies do it to save money, not for the PR or greenwashing,” she says. When you contract for solar, either by installing it on your roof or contracting for off-site use, “you’re locking in a low, stable price for energy, so you take out all of that volatility of the energy market from your bottom line,” she adds. “For companies for whom energy consumption is a huge part of their expenses, having certainty in that really makes a difference.”
Of the top companies for solar, Facebook made the biggest leap in rankings, jumping from the 27th spot in 2018 to the 9th spot in this report by adding 102.5 megawatts of off-site solar capacity. Though these big business names do stand out in the top companies for solar—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Ikea, Starbucks, and so on—smaller businesses actually account for a majority of the country’s solar capacity. Two-thirds of all of 2019’s newly installed solar capacity came from companies that are not in the Fortune 500. “That really goes to the business case for why so many companies are doing this,” Hopper says. “They’re doing it because it makes sense for their bottom line.”
Commercial solar use has been on an upward trend in recent years. Today there is 15 times more commercial solar capacity installed than there was 10 years ago, per SEIA, and more than two-thirds of all existing solar capacity has been installed in the last five years. But there’s still more that needs to be done to make solar power even more widespread, in terms of both policy and technology.
“On the policy front, we need to ensure that there are clear and fair rules for competition. One of the elements of why companies like Facebook or Google or Walmart are able to put solar on their rooftops or enter into those agreements to buy solar from a solar farm is because we’ve changed the regulatory structures to allow those transactions to happen,” Hopper says. “We need to make sure that customers—all customers—have fair access to going solar.
When it comes to technology, Hopper says, as solar grows, so does the need for solar storage. Think about a grocery store that experiences a power outage, she says. There’s probably a backup generator fueled by diesel or natural gas. “If they instead had solar and storage on their stores, we can have that same level of confidence in their energy supply, but fueled from a carbon-free source.”