By Peter Bronski
One week ago, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) published its fifth annual Solar Means Business report, fittingly released at SEIA’s “Solar Goes Corporate – West” event in San Francisco. The release came one day after Renewable Energy Markets 2016, at which the U.S. EPA announced the latest Green Power Leadership Award winners. The latest SEIA report covers the period Q4 2015 through Q3 2016, and while it only includes the largest adopters of commercial solar PV in the U.S.—about 16% of non-residential, non-utility-scale solar, according to the report’s authors—it offers a number of valuable insights nonetheless.
Target takes the top spot
Walmart has held the #1 spot since the report’s inception, but not this year. Target has added nearly 70 MW of solar YTD, leapfrogging Prologis and Walmart to take the lead position, with 147.5 MW of installed on-site solar PV capacity. This brings Target to 300 facilities with solar PV, which puts the company well on the way toward meeting its goal of 500 buildings with rooftop solar PV by 2020. Target estimates that its stores with solar PV get 15–30% of their electricity from the sun.
The top 8 remain unchanged
Although Target vaulted to the lead position, the top eight companies for installed solar PV capacity otherwise remain unchanged for the past two years: Target, Walmart, Prologis, Apple, Costco, Kohl’s, IKEA, and Macy’s (in that order, apart from Target’s improvement). It’s no surprise that these market leaders remain, well, leaders.
And there are some impressive capacity additions among the lot, in addition to Target’s 70 MW. Over the period 2015–2016, Macy’s nearly doubled its installed on-site solar capacity, from 21 MW to 39; Apple added 50+% on-site capacity, from 61 MW to 94. And Prologis added another 10 MW to reach 108, making it one of only three companies—alongside Target and Walmart—to surpass 100 MW of installed on-site solar capacity.
Leading companies show possible signs of slowing
Despite such positive news about the growth of on-site commercial solar, there are also signs that the leaders are perhaps beginning to slow down. Though the collective installed capacity of the corporations profiled in Solar Means Business has grown from 300 MW in 2012 to 1+ GW in 2016, their annual capacity additions have generally shown a downward trend since peaking in 2011. This is consistent with recent sentiment at industry conferences, noting that the first movers are starting to satisfy their first major wave of renewable energy procurement appetite, leaving it to the next and potentially much more numerous wave of corporations to sustain a next phase of market growth. There are signs that this is, in fact, happening.
Though the annual capacity additions of Solar Means Business corporations have generally declined since 2011, overall non-residential, non-utility solar PV annual capacity additions have remained remarkably steady at 1+ GW annually for the four-year period 2012–2015, suggesting that other corporations are stepping in to pick up that slack. Furthermore, after those four flat years, 2016 forecasts suggest this could be the market’s biggest year yet, with 1.3–1.4 GW installed.
Much low-hanging fruit remains
Even among the leaders, much low-hanging fruit for solar PV remains. For example, although IKEA boasts a whopping 90% of facilities with solar PV, other companies have just scratched their respective and proverbial surfaces. Solar Means Business estimates that just 7% of Walmart’s 5,000+ facilities and just 2% of Albertson’s 2,000+ facilities have gone solar, for two examples. Undoubtedly, many variables influence whether any individual facility would actually go solar—lease vs. own, rooftop age and warranty, local electricity markets and utility rates, etc. But it’s also clear that the U.S. solar market—including commercial on-site and corporate offtake from large-scale, off-site projects—remains poised for growth through 2021.
Off-site solar missing from the equation
By its own admission, Solar Means Business is “not a comprehensive look at corporate solar in the U.S.” That’s especially true in its omission of corporate procurement from large-scale, off-site solar. A June 2016 PwC report noted that 80% of major corporations are now taking a “portfolio” approach to renewable energy procurement that combines on-site and off-site solutions. In fact, at least three of the top eight from Solar Means Business—Walmart, Apple, and IKEA—have also signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for large-scale, off-site renewable energy. Solar is increasingly figuring central in that mix: corporate procurement from large-scale, off-site solar has exploded onto the scene, going from virtually non-existent in 2014 and prior to 887 MW across 2015 and 2016 YTD, according to staff at the Business Renewables Center. This represents 21+% of a market previously dominated more or less exclusively by wind.
Peter Bronski leads marketing and content strategy for Coronal Energy, powered by Panasonic.
Image: copyright Coronal Energy, powered by Panasonic.