Rooftops are for solar

Every big box store without rooftop solar is a missed opportunity to generate clean energy.

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Bronte Payne
Director, Go Solar Campaign

Author: Bronte Payne

Director, Go Solar Campaign

(617) 747-4327

Started on staff: 2015
B.A., cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, Kalamazoo College

Bronte directs Environment America’s solar energy programs and campaigns. Bronte has worked on successful campaigns to renew federal tax incentives for wind and solar energy and to move Cornell University and Boston University toward 100 percent renewable energy. Bronte grew up in Michigan and now lives in Boston, where she enjoys reading, biking and practicing yoga.

One of the things I loved to do in the before (COVID) times was to slowly and casually browse through a store. I’ve always been someone who grocery shops by going up and down every aisle (don’t worry, now I’m all about getting in and out as fast as possible). I find joy in strolling for far too long through a Target, dazedly looking at the myriad things that they have for sale. 

The stores that make for the best strolling, of course, are the ones with lots of space and tons of aisles. These sprawling floor plans mean that these stores also have sprawling rooftops, perfect for hosting solar panels. 

Good for the planet 

In fact, the rooftops of America’s big box stores and shopping centers could host enough solar capacity to generate enough electricity to power more than 7 million average U.S. homes. Installing that much solar capacity on superstores would also reduce global warming pollution equivalent to taking about 12 million vehicles off the road. What a wasted opportunity if we don’t put these rooftops to good use! 

Good for consumers 

As the common adage goes, it’s all about location, location, location. One might argue that we could build all of this solar elsewhere, but the proximity of America’s more than 102,000 big box stores to the places that we live means that solar on these retailers’ rooftops could provide particular benefits to consumers. Rooftop solar can help create a more modern, efficient and resilient electric grid. 

Putting solar panels on superstore rooftops allows us to generate clean energy right where it is going to be consumed. This can help utilities reduce the need for costly grid updates such as new power plants and added transmission and distribution lines. This is huge because those costs normally get passed onto consumers. Similarly, by producing renewable energy on-site, big box stores can reduce the amount of electricity lost as it travels along transmission lines. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that the United States lost about $21 billion worth of electricity in 2017, or 5 percent of the total amount of electricity generated that year. We don’t need to generate as much electricity if we waste less of it. 

Good for businesses 

Big box stores would directly benefit from putting solar on their rooftops. It takes a lot of electricity to keep these superstores running -- just think if you had to pay for all the lights kept on at your local grocery store! The renewable power produced by rooftop solar panels could save these big box stores $8.2 billion annually on their electricity bills. 

Superstores and grocery store chains can play an important role in our transition to clean, renewable energy by putting their rooftops and their parking lots to good use as hosts for solar panels. I’m excited to build a future where every time I stroll through a big box store, I know that clean, renewable solar power is being produced right above my head.

Photo credit: Ikea 

Bronte Payne
Director, Go Solar Campaign

Author: Bronte Payne

Director, Go Solar Campaign

(617) 747-4327

Started on staff: 2015
B.A., cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, Kalamazoo College

Bronte directs Environment America’s solar energy programs and campaigns. Bronte has worked on successful campaigns to renew federal tax incentives for wind and solar energy and to move Cornell University and Boston University toward 100 percent renewable energy. Bronte grew up in Michigan and now lives in Boston, where she enjoys reading, biking and practicing yoga.