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  (Source: Comedy Central)

One of the pilot solar panel installations sits atop the Garden section of a Walmart in Dallas, Texas. Walmart has said it may adopt as much as 3 GW of soalr power, covering all its stores' roofs in solar panels.  (Source: Renewable Energy World)
Trial deployment being started to test the waters

Interest in solar power remains high -- as do the costs associated with deploying the technology.  The field is an interesting case; costs have been progressively dropping as efficiencies have been rising.  However, there's also concerns about materials and potentially easier to harvest alternatives such as wind and nuclear energy to consider.  Ultimately, major adopters could help to tip the scale in solar power's favor by offering the kind of funding needed to create mass production on the massive scale needed to drop cost.

One such major adopter may soon commit to solar power -- Walmart.  Known for its financial savvy and cutthroat competitive nature, Walmart has started a trial deployment at a few stores.  If it deems the results acceptable, it plans to roll out solar panels on the roofs of all its stores.

That makes for a deployment of approximately 35 square miles.  That in turn would result in -- estimating conservatively 3 watts per square foot -- about 3 GW of total capacity.

Some are lauding the move and hailing it as the chance that solar needs to finally establish itself as the primary energy source of choice.  Seeking Alpha analyst David Fessler points to the gains in efficiency and drop in price of thin film solar cells, which don't use expensive polysilicon as potentially cutting the cost of solar power in half in two or three years.  He believes the Walmart deployment will be copied by virtually all the retail chains across America.

However, significant challenges remain before that rosy picture could be realized.  Most importantly, even with massive mass production and a 50 percent reduction in base costs, solar power would be lucky to just be breaking even with the cost of wind or nuclear power.  Secondly, there's the challenge of storage, something which isn't a problem for other options such as nuclear or algae-based biofuels.

Third, there's the problem of excess.  If the installation produces too much power, it will means to sell it back to the grid.  And this will require complex metering, and America's power grid could hardly be called high-tech or flexible.

As Global CIO's Bob Evans mentions a final challenge is the government.  He states, "Can you imagine the mess the not-so-invisible hand of governmental bureaucracy and regulation would make out of this plan? Environmental-impact studies for the next century, zoning hearings, regulatory applications, mountains of public-utility forms followed by thousands of PUC meetings, and so forth – and that's all before even so prodigious an achiever as Wal-Mart can get the first watt of solar energy harnessed. Is this the best use of Wal-Mart's time and money?"

Thus the Walmart plan is one of great expectations.  And it is also one with great obstacles and a very real possibility of disappointment for solar power supporters.

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Excess power?
By VoodooChicken on 7/31/2009 1:29:00 PM , Rating: 2
There is absolutely no way these cells will generate more power than a Walmart uses. Given the size of a typical store, maybe if you had enough cells deployed to cover the whole parking lot during the Equinox, you might be able to start bleeding excess.

Storage is the immediate concern. Fundamental problem with cells is they don't work too well at night. Or Buffalo.

RE: Excess power?
By guacamojo on 7/31/2009 3:06:01 PM , Rating: 5
Walmart claims that the system can provide up to 30% of the operating needs of the store. So no, they're not planning to "feed the grid" with the system. They're offsetting their own electricity usage. They wouldn't even need storage, as they'd use every last coulomb on-site, on-demand.

Overall, it looks like they're being very smart about it. They aren't buying panels, they're signing long term (10-year) contracts with outside firms who supply the electricity at below-market rates. There's no downside for Walmart. They don't own the panels, so they don't care about panel life or anything like that. They just get cheaper power for their stores.

And maybe slightly lower A/C heat load requirements, thanks to all those panels on the roof.

RE: Excess power?
By futrtrubl on 7/31/2009 8:15:40 PM , Rating: 5
You see this is the kind of information that should have been in the damn "article". You stop a whole lot of useless speculation.

RE: Excess power?
By Starcub on 8/1/2009 10:25:32 AM , Rating: 2
Wasn't that the point of including Mr. Global CIO's detractions in the article: to generate useless speculation and increased traffic/posts?

RE: Excess power?
By MrPoletski on 8/4/2009 5:48:54 AM , Rating: 2
Even if they did produce more power than they might want to use, what's so hard about having a UPS style battery that the panels charge when current demand is low? that way a sunny morning will also pay for the rainy afternoon.

RE: Excess power?
By Belard on 7/31/2009 4:08:09 PM , Rating: 1
Note that any advancement in self-power is always something that the utilities companies DON'T LIKE. $$$$

Power lines take up space, waste from nuke and coal takes up space, requires transport.

Solar power doesn't require transport or make waste.

It stores power during the day and uses it at night.

Less use of power off the grid means less greenhouse gases and pollution and waste from the power companies.

RE: Excess power?
By rninneman on 7/31/2009 5:19:55 PM , Rating: 2
Not exactly.

Solar arrays don't last forever. They need servicing and eventual replacement on a 12-20 year interval with current technology. The defective ones end up as waste.

What technology stores enough energy to run a Walmart at night?

RE: Excess power?
By Starcub on 8/1/2009 10:37:45 AM , Rating: 2
They need servicing and eventual replacement on a 12-20 year interval with current technology.

Most polysilicon based PV panels sold today offer 20-25 year output warranty's, I don't know about the newer thin film based panels though. I suppose it might be the case that power/efficiency/cost evolution might make it worthwhile to upgrade your system in a 12-20 year time frame, but I imagine the tech would have to get much better for that to happen, assuming you've already completed the purchase of your existing system. If the prospect for energy tech advancement is high, as I believe it is, it might make more sense to rent, as I believe Wal-Mart plans to do.

RE: Excess power?
By paydirt on 8/3/2009 4:49:18 PM , Rating: 2
Another possibility (though far-fetched) is that Wal-Mart would BUY a solar panel company.

RE: Excess power?
By sxr7171 on 7/31/2009 7:31:45 PM , Rating: 3
You have no idea how power grids work. The best thing a power company could ask for during a high temperature summer day is some extra power to ease the load on the grid. Power prices fluctuate in 15 minute intervals and they get very high during summer afternoons.

RE: Excess power?
By mattclary on 7/31/2009 4:25:27 PM , Rating: 2
The summer solstice would be better. ;)

RE: Excess power?
By AskTheChief on 8/2/2009 3:25:22 PM , Rating: 4
If "There is absolutely no way these cells will generate more power than a Walmart uses." then why would storage be the immediate concern? If you have no power left to store why would you be concerned?

Yes I agree, they don't work at night, so Walmart has to buy some electric, at least they are reducing the draw on the power plants during the day durning peak usage times.

Thats not the only major problem.
By imaheadcase on 7/31/2009 1:20:54 PM , Rating: 2
Most walmarts actually rent the buildings. The company that builds all these walmarts would have to sign off on it, even if its on walmarts dime.

AS with anyone who has rented, big or small, its not easy to get someone to sign off on a improvement no matter how noble.

By PandaBear on 7/31/2009 2:10:44 PM , Rating: 2
Everyone rents, and usually landlord don't care too much as long as it doesn't permanently damage the building (or if you pay for the permanent damage). Putting up Solar panel is perfectly acceptable.

By mattclary on 7/31/2009 2:35:21 PM , Rating: 4
Having drawn the survey on one of our local Super Centers, I know Wal-Mart owns at least some of them. If Wal-Mart was willing to pay for capital improvements on property I owned, I would let them.

RE: Thats not the only major problem.
By inperfectdarkness on 7/31/2009 2:38:53 PM , Rating: 4
personally...the skylights that some stores already use are probably much more effective overall on the operational costs.

i'm amazed every time i walk into the local store during the daytime. there are ZERO internal lights on in the main shopping area.

RE: Thats not the only major problem.
By MrPoletski on 8/4/2009 5:52:53 AM , Rating: 2
Certainly a better idea than replacing the skylights with solar panels to power lamps underneath them hehe.

Another awesome advancement helping in this department would be transparent concrete. Translucent really, google it..

By inperfectdarkness on 8/5/2009 4:57:16 AM , Rating: 2
naturally. the stuff also works great when combined with phosphorescent chemicals. not a whole lot of need for parking-lot lights when the pavement glows pretty well in its own right...

RE: Thats not the only major problem.
By Chemical Chris on 7/31/2009 4:49:13 PM , Rating: 3
Walmart owns most of is property/buildings....they are a real estate company, of sorts. They do this because its cheaper, and the cost is amortized over the life of the store.
Its the best way to do it if you can get the credit/cash. If your total interest paid if purchased is less than the profit the landlord would make renting it, then you save money. Most of their stores are new, so a landlord would probably have to take a loan to make it anyway, so the base costs are the same. So, cut out the landlord.
McDonalds does this to.

By Lazarus Dark on 7/31/2009 6:57:29 PM , Rating: 3
they are a real estate company, of sorts.

actually, the newest walmart down the street from me has open lots on either side of it with signs that say "land for buy or lease from Walmart Real Estate". So, they actually are a real estate company apparently.

By stromgald30 on 7/31/2009 8:02:46 PM , Rating: 3
I would think WalMart would own most of their buildings/land. Unless they plan on moving a lot or don't have the money (which they obviously do), it's generally better to own than rent.

By Starcub on 8/1/2009 10:17:32 AM , Rating: 2
In Florida there are significant property tax advantages to having installations like this done to your property. I wouldn't be surprized if other states had similiar arangements.

By AEvangel on 7/31/2009 1:35:39 PM , Rating: 2
Third, there's the problem of excess. If the installation produces too much power, it will means to sell it back to the grid. And this will require complex metering, and America's power grid could hardly be called high-tech or flexible.

I think this would be better suited in an argument against larger type roll out of Solar, but for just what Wally world doing it this is a non-issue.

I personally applaud them, it's a good PR move and it will pay for it's self in a couple of years.

By FITCamaro on 7/31/2009 2:08:24 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah I don't mind companies rolling out solar on their buildings to cut down on power costs where it makes sense to do so. Good way to save on power costs in the long run. Especially in hot parts of the country. Could shave thousands off an energy bill due to AC usage.

By MrPickins on 7/31/2009 5:57:41 PM , Rating: 2
It's also works well because the times with the highest solar output are also going to be the times when you use the most air conditioning.

By PrimarchLion on 8/1/2009 2:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
You lost me.

I don't see any arguments against solar in your post, and while nuclear energy has its advantages, I don't think that it is really relevant to this article. Walmart isn't going to be building any nuclear reactors any time soon.

Wind can be an eyesore to some, but I think its pretty cool when I see some large wind turbines when I'm driving through the country. It also has its advantages, but it probably doesn't work well for Walmart because the majority of Walmart locations probably aren't suited for it.

By nilepez on 8/1/2009 6:18:31 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, Nuclear isn't all that dangerous. As I recall, the French get most of their power for Nuclear. Aside from 3 Mile Island (30+ years ago) and Chernobyl (a substandard POS), I know of no problems of note.

To me the biggest problems is waste, and part of that could be solved if we recycled the waste.

At one time, Nuclear was expensive, but as energy prices have increased, nuclear has become cheaper...but it takes time for that to happen.

In the 80's many hated them, even if they didn't mind Nuclear itself, because the energy was more expensive than other types. I don't think it will take 20 years for Oil and Gas to go back to levels we saw last year.

For my money, we should use Nuclear, Solar and Wind, but we have to recycle the Nuclear waste. It's dangerous and wasteful.

By Solandri on 8/2/2009 1:05:48 AM , Rating: 3
Measured in deaths per GWh of energy generated, nuclear is the safest form of power man has invented (yes, including Chernobyl deaths). The most dangerous form actually turns out to be hydro, due to dam failures and flooding.

In the U.S. in particular, there have been zero deaths associated with commercial nuclear power generation in some 60 years. Even solar and wind have had the odd worker fatalities, despite the tiny amount of power they generate compared to nuclear.

The waste issue IMHO is a red herring, since burning coal already dumps more uranium and thorium into the atmosphere than what's used by all the nuclear reactors we have. Coal actually contains more energy in the trace amounts of uranium it contains than it does in the coal itself.

By Keeir on 8/2/2009 2:23:12 AM , Rating: 2
For my money, we should use Nuclear, Solar and Wind, but we have to recycle the Nuclear waste. It's dangerous and wasteful.

I think this is something that can be lived with...

I personally don't think CO2 is that responsible for global warming, but

for each 1kWh of Electricity produce
Coal = 900 grams of C02 (Just Burning)
Natural Gas = 600 grams of C02 (Just Burning)
Nuclear = 34 grams of C02 (Entire Fuel Cycle inlcuding mining and disposal)

I just can't see any other way currently in existance to cut C02 down to much more reasonable volumes and still provide adequate power.

In the end, would you rather have one barrel of concetrated pollution, or 10 times that amount spread across the sky? (Even Clean Coal is very polluting)

Told them about this over a year ago.
By marsbound2024 on 7/31/2009 1:52:16 PM , Rating: 2
I absolutely called Wal-Mart corporate office about a year and a half ago suggesting this very idea!!!! (I did this because I was reading their website about their so called green initiative stuff and had to share my opinion). I was on the phone with someone talking about them making use of all that roof real estate by installing solar panels. It would ultimately pay off because the Wal-Marts net electricity usage goes down (well uses same amount of electricity, but some of it is "paid for" by the Sun). It was a win-win situation for them (public relations, environment--if applicable--and cost savings in the long run). Now I am not saying I had anything to do with this, but it is interesting to see this finally develop... I never did hear back from them. I am sure that someone there was thinking of the idea anyways.

RE: Told them about this over a year ago.
By guacamojo on 7/31/2009 3:12:49 PM , Rating: 2
They beat you to it. They announced their 22 store pilot project back in May of '07.

By marsbound2024 on 8/1/2009 12:15:44 PM , Rating: 2
Cool, glad you were doing your research. I obviously didn't read deep enough! I think it is a pretty smart idea overall, despite having to overcome some technical obstacles and having to make a decision about waiting for more solar panel efficiency or installing now/soon.

RE: Told them about this over a year ago.
By brybir on 7/31/2009 5:16:40 PM , Rating: 3
From my experiance with large corporations it is likely you were talking to some random person in some cube somewhere in Arkansas. After you got off the phone the person rolled their eyes and made rude comments about you and your mother while the co-workers in the other cubes all laughed. Then they all forgot that you ever called.

By marsbound2024 on 8/1/2009 12:16:15 PM , Rating: 2
This is probably accurate.

Well.... ?
By Mojo the Monkey on 7/31/2009 1:37:59 PM , Rating: 2
From the article
Most importantly, even with massive mass production and a 50 percent reduction in base costs, solar power would be lucky to just be breaking even with the cost of wind or nuclear power.

Over what period of time? We all know that solar carries an initial investment, but the gains of the post-installation free (minus de minimis maintenance expenses) energy slowly close the gap. Over the right period of time, even less efficient solar projects "break even" with alternative sources. The key question is by when?

Also, are these thin solar cells any more efficient than the market standard of last few years? Or merely cheaper? I'm really excited for the eventual implementation of cheap nano-tech based solar cells.

RE: Well.... ?
By Keeir on 7/31/2009 2:43:48 PM , Rating: 3
Over what period of time? We all know that solar carries an initial investment, but the gains of the post-installation free (minus de minimis maintenance expenses) energy slowly close the gap. Over the right period of time, even less efficient solar projects "break even" with alternative sources

I think your being very optomistic that solar cells "last forever". In reality, most manufactures have 20-25 year warranties on the longer lasting panels. Worse, they degrade and produce less and less power as the years go by. Thin Film have been in the past rated as even less durable.

The key question is by when?

Well, there is a concept called the present value of a series.

Price ~ 740 per panel for small quantities
Avg. Solar Insoluation over a year

Lets take the above panel at Dallas over 30 years with 5% rate of return.... what is the required yearly value?

Average Power (yearly)= .1374* 1.6 m^2 * 5.5 kWh/m^2/day * 356 days)= 430 kWh a year or 36 kWh a month

Assume a mass market installation price of ~1,000 dollars a panel. The panel itself should be around 700 even in mass quanitities, so only 300 for the installation hardware, labour, shipping, and electronics seems fair. BP Solar seems to charge around 3x the price of the panel for residential instllations.

With these assumptions, the panel needs to provide at least $5.40 of benifits every month. Or displace at least 0.15 cents per kWh of cost. Texas right now is around 0.10 cents per kWh for electricity costs.

Of course, this (0.10 cents cost) includes profit for the generator and the transmission. Often it includes a bit taxes or other fees. It includes the capital payoff on the transmission lines and grid as well as salaries for maintainces workers etc. All of these types of things were not include in that 15 cents per kilowatt hour calculation.

Solar installations can make sense, for end customers to provide thier own power when they have rebates incentives, public relations incentives, and might be able to use the solar panels to reduce air conditioning charges etc. But things like Coal and Nuclear produce power profitiablly for a generator for around 4-5 cents per kWh. Wind is getting alot better in the best locations, and I've seen numbers as good as 10 cents per kWh... Solar though still sitting around more than 20 cents per kWh even in the best locations.

RE: Well.... ?
By Mojo the Monkey on 8/3/2009 4:52:59 PM , Rating: 2
Touche, salesman.

Is that it?
By TheNuts on 7/31/2009 1:54:20 PM , Rating: 3
Only 3 GW? Would be more impressive is it was 1.21 Jigawatts....Great Scott!!

RE: Is that it?
By marsbound2024 on 7/31/2009 2:28:58 PM , Rating: 2
If I recall correctly, "Jigawatt" = GW (Gigawatt pronounced "Jigawatt"). Despite that technicality, it would be hilarious if it were to generate 1.21GW collectively!

All about Taxes
By ancient46 on 8/2/2009 12:31:13 PM , Rating: 2
Wal-Mart Real Estate owns the land and the building shell for a lot of their stores. The shells are then leased to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who outfit and stock the store. There is a significant tax advantage for Wal-Mart Stores if they rent the building instead of owning one. I think you will only see this project done on the Wal-Mart Real Estate owned buildings.

RE: All about Taxes
By zachj on 8/3/2009 10:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
The tax advantage should derive from the fact that WalMart Real Estate can be incorporated as a REIT while still being wholly operated by WalMart corporate.

The REIT then shields WalMart corporate from the profits generated on real estate to the extent that the profits are reinvested. Of those profits which are realized , the REIT is required to pay out 90% (or more) to the shareholders (in this case WalMart).

Not bad for Mick
By rninneman on 7/31/2009 5:26:26 PM , Rating: 2
Normally I would be the first to criticize Mick's bias on such issues but I will give credit where credit is due. This article comes across as generally being neutral and trying to discuss the pros and cons of the program. While he doesn't cover every pro and/or con, he does fine given the length of the article. Now we can discuss the rest of the pros/cons in the comments. Good job Jason and try to keep your articles more like this from now on; it will only help to improve the quality of DT.

Wind = better then solar
By majBUZZ on 7/31/2009 5:50:55 PM , Rating: 2
Solar power is very expensive and the cost per kilowatt doesn't compete with wind power.

But the Sun shines everyday but clouds and hail interfere with production, while the wind is intermittent and requires a turbulence free flow and these windmills must also be constructed on 80ft towers. So both have there drawbacks.
So i guess it comes down to location.

By TheEinstein on 7/31/2009 9:57:26 PM , Rating: 2

I honestly think it would be much more beneficial for Walmart, for the community, and would give them a lot better ROI.

By zzdinko on 8/1/2009 9:44:25 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, Wal Mart totally RULES dude! Seems they are always doing good things for the community.


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