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Walmart's latest ambitious solar plans

Posting in Cities

Investment will help promote use of thin-film solar technology; double the locations where the retailers uses solar power.

I was just down in Charlotte, North Carolina, over the weekend, where it seemed like I drove by at least two Walmart stores every time I went out in the rental car. So, the announcement at the retail giant plans to use thin-film solar technology at between 20 and 30 new sites in California and Arizona caught my eye.

According to the plan, Walmart will invest in thin-film solar technology from SolarCity, which will design, install, maintain and own the systems themselves. The goal is to install enough solar capacity at each of the targeted locations so that renewable energy generates between 20 percent and 30 percent of the total energy needs for the site. The total capacity we are talking about is 22.5 million kilowatt hours of clean energy annually.

Although thin-film won't be used for the entire installation, the company's decision to use it is significant because the manufacturing footprint for thin film -- from a sustainable resource consumption standpoint -- has less of an impact than the impact of using other solar technologies.

Here's the rationale for the investment, according to a statement by Kim Saylors Laster, who is Walmart's vice president of energy:

"By leveraging our global scale to become a more efficient company, we are able to lower our expenses and help develop markets for new technologies. Developing and incorporating new renewable energy sources, like thin film, reduces energy price risk and aligns very well with our commitment to solving business challenges through technology."

For perspective, Walmart already supports 31 solar installations in California and Hawaii, so this will almost double the number of sites where the retailer relies on solar as a renewable energy source.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure