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How to sell renewable energy to Walmart

<p>How does the world&#39;s biggest retailer source solar, wind and other renewables? Here are the rules of engagement.</p>

Part of our approach to sustainability is to set ambitious goals, including to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.  We envision a world where people do not have to choose between electricity they can afford and renewable electricity that is good for communities and the planet.  As such, we are continually experimenting, piloting and scaling a variety of cutting-edge and proven technologies, and have learned that nine conditions must exist to drive a higher volume of renewables.

To date, we have more than 180 renewable energy projects in operation or under development across our global portfolio, providing us more than one billion kilowatt hours of renewable electricity annually. That is enough to power 78,000 American homes every year. Added together with the renewable electricity we purchase from the grid, 22 percent of Walmart’s electricity needs globally are supplied by renewable sources.

In the U.S., several milestones have been met so far in 2012. We completed our 100th solar project in California, announced a 27 solar site expansion in Massachusetts, completed our largest solar project to date in Buckeye, Ariz,, utilizing 14,000 solar panels and will produce over 5 million kwh per year, and we will flip the switch on a large 1 megawatt wind turbine at a distribution center in Red Bluff, Calif., in the next few weeks.

All of this power generates no greenhouse gas emissions, and is being delivered in a cost-effective manner, demonstrating that a new energy future can contribute to everyday low costs and enable everyday low prices for our customers.

Projects, such as those outlined above, result from partnerships with clean tech manufacturers and installers, and a competitive bidding process we undergo from time to time. In addition, we get many unsolicited proposals from both startups and established companies offering innovative renewable energy solutions. We take each of these seriously.

Here are some of the guidelines we consider when evaluating renewable energy companies, technologies, and projects:

  • Availability. Starting with the obvious one, the renewable resource (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) must be available nearby.
  • Providers. The technologies – and the companies to install and maintain them – must be available to turn the renewable resource into useable energy.
  • Finance Capital. The market must have banks and financial institutions willing and able to lend to project developers. Often, lenders offer a lower cost of capital and other preferred finance terms as a result of Walmart’s low-risk profile as one of the project partners. In some of our markets, unexpected finance risks – like past currency crises – have made lenders unwilling to finance projects in those markets, especially for utility-scale projects.
  • Government Incentives. In some markets, renewable energy projects are viable without government incentives; however, in many regions, government incentives help make the project viable.
  • Electricity Cost. Highly subsidized grid electricity costs make renewable energy less attractive.


For offsite utility-scale projects:

  • Favorable Regulatory Framework. It must be legal for Walmart (or other energy consumers) to directly source electricity from project developers. In some of our markets, our ability to drive scale is diminished because we are not able to sign direct power purchase agreements.
  • Grid Reliability. It must be possible to reliably transmit the electricity from the project site to our stores.


For onsite distributed generation projects:

  • Rooftop Rights. Installing onsite renewable energy is far more viable when we own the building and have access to the roof, parking lot and other real estate to install systems. Some of our markets lease space in the basement of multistory high-rises, creating both ownership and engineering barriers.
  • Permitting. Many of our attempts to install renewable energy on our roofs, parking lots or land have required significant time working with regulators to manage permitting rules that inadvertently prevent renewable installations

When the right combination of these nine conditions align, Walmart has the opportunity to do what we do best: leverage our scale, our creativity and our willingness to take risks to drive significant new renewable capacity.

For more information about Walmart's sustainability efforts, or to reach out with comments and suggestions, please visit The Green Room.

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