Walmart is expanding its use of renewable energy technology with the planned installation of solar generation systems on up to 30 new locations in both California and Arizona, adding to the 31 existing solar installations the company has in California and Hawaii. The majority of these systems will utilize a new lower cost thin film solar technology.

The new thin film solar technology uses fewer raw materials than traditional solar panel systems, which means that they start of with a smaller environmental footprint than their traditional counterparts. Walmart partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund for the RFP process and ultimately SolarCity’s proposal was chosen. SolarCity will design, install, own, and maintain the systems, which will use both copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride thin film.

“By leveraging our global scale to become a more efficient company, we are able to lower our expenses and help develop markets for new technologies,” said Kim Saylors Laster, Walmart vice president of energy. “Developing and incorporating new renewable energy sources, like thin film, reduces energy price risk and aligns very well with our commitment to solving business challenges through technology.”

During a Monday afternoon conference call, Laster joined David Ozment, Walmart’s director of energy and Mack Wyckoff, Sr., the lead on the thin film project, to further discuss the new solar technology that will be used.

Thin film systems have a similar look and feel to traditional crystalline panels. However, there are a few added benefits to using thin film panels. The most obvious benefit is that thin film systems are installed parallel to the roof and not tilted like traditional solar installations.  This allows more roof space to be used for solar generation purposes.

A second benefit is that thin film systems can operate more efficiently in less than the optimal full-sunshine situations. Although the new systems will be installed in two sunny states, California and Arizona, thin film solar systems can generate power on cloudy days more efficiently than traditional solar technologies. This makes it an ideal technology for use in parts of the country that aren’t as sunny as the desert southwest.

Another benefit of thin film solar installations over traditional crystalline panels is that it can perform better under high heat circumstances. Arizona, with its 115+ degree summer temperatures, is a perfect test bed for this technology. Walmart’s installation of this newer solar technology will help thin film manufacturers test and ultimately fine tune their product, which could lead to more widespread adoption of this technology in the future.

While it may seem obvious that California and Arizona were chosen for the new Walmart solar installations, more went into the decision making process than simply the amount of sunshine that these two states receive. In addition to SolarCity’s existing presence in these markets, financial incentives in the two states were favorable to solar expansion. While the financial benefits of a solar installation, both in upfront incentives and long-term savings, are one motivating factor behind the project, Walmart is also excited about the environmental and technological benefits that come with supporting a new technology.

Once installed, the new solar projects should generate between 20 and 30 percent of the total energy needs for each location, produce up to 22.5 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually, and prevent the production of 11,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

In addition to helping Walmart reduce its carbon footprint by expanding its use of renewable energy, these projects will also generate good green jobs. Approximately 500 green jobs will be created or supported in California and Arizona by the installation process alone. Beyond the direct support of green jobs, the project is also boosting thin film manufacturing operations at facilities in Ohio and California.

The new solar installations will expand Walmart’s existing use of solar power, with solar installations in test or rollout mode in eight countries. Walmart also uses wind energy to help power facilities in the United States and abroad and is researching geothermal and fuel cell technologies for future renewable energy projects.

Walmart announces new solar project
Up to 30 Walmart sites in California and Arizona will be equipped with new solar generation systems.