BJ's Wholesale, Estee Lauder, Kohls, Target, Tiffany & Co., Wal-Mart. From "big box" discount giants to high-end jewelry retailers, solar energy has become big business in 2007. The most recent retail-outfitter to become part of this trend is Macy's, which announced earlier this month it will install solar power systems on 26 stores throughout California.
The trend is welcomed news for U.S. solar manufacturers like SunPower Corp., a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems. The company's subsidiary, PowerLight, is under contract to install photovoltaic systems atop the 26 Macy's stores—as well as systems totaling 4.6 megawatts on seven Wal-Mart stores in California.
Building on the momentum of these contracts, SunPower recently announced that the largest investment bank in the U.S., Morgan Stanley has agreed to own—and finance—the solar PV systems that the company is planning to deploy on the Wal-Mart facilities.
The financing agreement was secured under the SunPower Access program, which allows customers to purchase solar-generated electricity from a SunPower financing partner as an alternative to outright purchase of the solar power systems themselves.
"Leading companies like Wal-Mart are turning to solar power because it makes good business sense and supports their environmental initiatives," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower. "Our SunPower Access program makes going solar even simpler and more cost effective for customers who prefer the option of a power purchase agreement."
SunPower arranges the solar power system's financing and sells the system to the SunPower financing partner, in addition to designing, deploying and maintaining the system to the customer's requirements. The customer pays the financing partner for the solar electricity generated over a long-term power purchase agreement.
At the end of the term specified under the agreement, the customer typically has the option to renew the agreement, transfer the equipment to a new site, or purchase the system outright from the financing partner.
Energy Efficiency Joins the Mix
It's not just renewable energy however that has corporations seeing green in terms of dollar savings and environmental benefits. Energy efficiency upgrades are becoming increasingly popular with retailers as they move toward green friendly business operations.
Along with the PV systems, PowerLight is assisting Macy's with energy efficiency upgrades at the 26 stores, including high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems and energy management systems. According to the company, combining solar power with efficiency will allow Macy's to achieve an estimated 40% reduction in utility-provided energy, almost doubling the impact of the solar power alone.
"By combining energy efficiency with solar power, Macy's is taking the extra step to cut our peak load demand," said Macy's, Inc. Vice-Chair Tom Cole.
Tiffany & Co., with its trademark blue box and pricey diamonds, is already reaping the benefits of solar and energy efficiency with the dedication of one of the East Coast's largest commercial solar projects earlier this year. Tiffany's has deployed 1.3 megawatts of solar energy at the company's retail distribution centers in Whippany (680 kilowatts) and Parsippany (656 kilowatts), New Jersey.
Comprised of 6,394 solar panels and covering 104,000 square feet, Tiffany's new solar arrays will supply on average approximately 30 percent of Tiffany's distribution centers' electrical load at peak demand times. Additionally, lighting upgrades that reduce electrical use and improve lighting quality will help achieve an overall estimated annual project value of more than $500,000 in savings.
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