Solar means business: What to know about solar energy growth among top U.S. companies in 2016

January 11, 2017 Leslie Hancock

Top companies are driving solar energy growthEach year, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) publishes a commercial solar energy industry report called "Solar Means Business," in which they track solar energy growth and adoption by America’s top companies. Solar Means Business 2016 has some interesting nuggets for companies interested in going solar, including the fact that top U.S. companies installed more megawatts (MW) of solar in the first three quarters of 2016 than in all of 2015. That’s an encouraging sign that corporate leaders continue to see the long-term return on investment and competitive advantages of using commercial solar as a source of renewable energy.

What does the Solar Means Business annual report mean to you and your organization? In our response to last year’s solar energy growth report, we suggested that companies should “follow the solar leaders” to emulate their success:

Ultimately there are many ways to go solar and meet business renewable energy goals. There’s also much we can learn from the pioneering leadership of America’s top commercial solar users. Companies that are already extensively using solar for their own power generation have paved the way by defining and solving problems, setting an exceptional example of good corporate sustainability practices and demonstrating how going solar is a solid fiscal decision as well as a feel-good one.

This year, if you want to be inspired by an ambitious corporate solar adopter, look to Target, which really pulled out ahead by installing three times the solar capacity in 2016 than their nearest competitor (Walmart).

Top 10 companies that use solar energy by solar capacity installed in 2016

While your company might not be in a position to compete with Target, you can certainly take cues from their commercial renewable energy initiative.

Top brands leading the way with solar

In terms of total megawatts installed, the top 10 companies in 2016 were:

  1. Target
  2. Walmart
  3. Prologis
  4. Apple
  5. Costco
  6. Kohl’s
  7. IKEA
  8. Macy’s
  9. General Growth Properties
  10. Hartz Mountain

Like the solar capacity top ten, this list is dominated by big box retailers and technology companies’ data centers, which tend to have very large system sizes and/or numbers of installations.

2016 commercial solar energy industry report data summaryThough commercial installs are down from highs in 2012 and 2013, the solar energy growth rate has been rising consistently year-over-year since 2014. SEIA researchers expect to see a continuation of this trend, driven in part by the addition of several large-scale plants powering facilities for Apple, Amazon and others, along with increases in offsite corporate energy procurement.

Declining commercial solar installation prices continue to drive growth

Commercial solar panel prices have fallen by 58 percent since 2012 and by 16 percent in the last year. So despite some state-level solar policy instability flattening corporate solar adoption and growth over the past three years, commercial solar panel cost declines are driving the market going forward. SEIA forecasts a marked increase in commercial installations as a result.

There is still plenty of room for growth, even among the nation’s leading corporate solar adopters. For example, only seven percent of Walmart’s 5,000+ facilities and two percent of Albertson’s 2,000+ facilities have gone solar so far. 

Large-scale commercial solar installations are trending

While non-residential solar installs flattened between 2012 and 2015, the commercial market is expected to see some growth in 2016 and beyond due to increased solar adoption by non-commercial entities (i.e. government agencies and non-profits) and some large-scale corporate installations by companies like Apple, Amazon, Target and others.

Looking to the future of commercial solar energy growth

SEIA wraps up its 2016 commercial solar report by acknowledging ongoing solar policy instability, and the difficulty this causes for smaller commercial entities trying to obtain financing—while pointing out the encouraging rate of large corporate installations and the abundance of “low-hanging fruit” ripe for solar adoption. Consequently, commercial solar panel energy growth projections are promising heading into 2017.


Related links:

FLOW CHART: Is commercial solar right for your organization?

Are solar systems worth It? Evaluating your business’s return on potential solar solutions

The advantages and disadvantages of businesses going solar

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