3 Common Hurdles to Solar Adoption and How to Overcome Them

solar panels on mall

Things are looking up for big box stores. 

More specifically, retailers’ roofs can produce big savings and impact for stores and surrounding communities. A recent report from Environment America calculates that the large, flat roofs of retail stores, shopping malls, and grocery stores across the U.S. hold the potential to generate enough solar energy to power more than eight million American homes and avoid more than 52 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. 

All told, about two-thirds of all big box retailer roofs are suitable for solar. Yet despite such availability, potential savings, and increasing ESG consideration, many large retailers are still hesitant to install rooftop solar. According to U.S. Energy Information Agency data, big box stores are producing only about 15% of the potential cited in the recent Environment America report.

[More on sustainability: Meijer Reducing Waste With Flashfood Sustainability Initiative]

Here are three perceived hurdles to solar adoption and how retailers can overcome them.

You Don’t Own the Property

In avolatile market where e-commerce and the pandemic have caused increasing worry for brick-and-mortar businesses, many retailers are signing shorter leases or avoiding property ownership altogether. As such, many retailers believe this disqualifies them from adopting rooftop solar — that’s not the case. 

There are often contractual pathways to installing solar in building contracts and leases. Retailers can also explore the potential for power purchase agreements (PPAs), especially if they have a reduced tax appetite or feel the required capital expenditures for installing solar are too high. Plus, under a PPA, retailers don’t need to worry about managing the complexities of operating and maintaining the installation — the third-party owner is responsible for that. 

Additionally, PPAs are being structured in new ways that provide retailers much more flexibility. For example, some PPAs are now being structured for shorter 10- or 15-year terms in exchange for other considerations, and can include termination options as well. 

You Can’t Afford Disruption of Daily Operations

Even if big box retailers are ready to adopt solar, they don’t want to disrupt the store design and day-to-day operations during installation. Maintaining the carefully curated customer experience they’ve created is paramount. For instance, a delivery truck blocking prime parking spaces during a drop off could drive consumers to a competitor. 

Through strong communication and planning with a developer, these types of disruptions can easily be avoided. You can map out times that would be appropriate for electrical shutdowns, construction, etc. to ensure development is working on your schedule. And if you make a plan so that contractors have appropriate and clear access to the installation site, and equipment delivery matches your needs, you can control any, if not all, possible interference. 

You Don’t Want Solar to Clash With Your Design Aesthetic

A commercial solar installation is an extension of the host business. It should support the aesthetic already established onsite and the design should take into account how the deployment will look from various perspectives.

Find a developer who is able to work in tandem with architects to ensure the system flows with the rest of the building design and avoids blocking signage, entries, or other important infrastructure. You could also consider installing a solar canopy over the parking lot, which could provide the added benefit of rain and snow cover for customers, not to mention reduced snow removal costs for the store, as well as a visible indicator of your commitment to sustainability.

[Related: 5 Retailers Ranked ‘Most Sustainable' in 2022]

As supply chain and omnichannel challenges continue, and brick-and-mortar stores evolve, a successful solar installation can offer relief on energy costs. The common hurdles to solar installation are easier to overcome than you might think. For retailers, there’s no reason to delay the savings, ROI, positive brand perception and goodwill that solar can provide.

Dan O’Brien, Vice President of Commercial Origination, DSD Renewables

About the Author

Dan O’Brien

O’Brien works with retailers to evaluate sites, energy needs, varying technology, potential financial solutions, and deliver solar projects optimized for their needs. Since 2007, O’Brien has worked on over 250 MWs of solar energy projects in varying capacities from commercial PV project development, project management, operations, and more.

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