Wal-Mart has announced the results of the request for proposal it issued in December to put solar panels on the roof of its stores. The winners -- notified a couple weeks ago but made public today -- include BP Solar, SunEdison, and the PowerLight division of SunPower. The three were culled from the eleven proposals the company received.
All told, the combined contracts represent only a fraction of the potentially 340 stores covered by the request for proposal: just 22 stores in California and Hawaii. The original request asked for bids to cover stores in five states. In the end, the numbers didn't work for the others. "The expectation was that this had to be good for both the environment and the business," Kim Saylor, Wal-Mart's VP Energy, told me. "We couldn’t pay a premium for solar energy."
Saylor emphasized that Wal-Mart views this as a pilot for a potentially larger solar roll-out. "We will learn from these sites and also with our experimental stores in Aurora [Colo.] and McKinney [Tex.]. "To meet our 100% renewable goals, we have to look at all the opportunities."
Exactly what future "opportunities" might be is a big question. Clearly, more solar photovoltaics are in order. But Saylor says the company is looking at "all the things you'd expect," including wind, biomass, solar thin film, solar concentrators, even solar farms. The retailer already runs its own energy utility, Texas Retail Energy, which currently sells energy only to itself, but it's not inconceivable that one day we might find ourselves buying kilowatt-hours from the world's biggest retailer, presumably at the "lowest price."
For now, it's a modest first step in solar. "This whole process has been exciting for me and our team," says Saylor. And while the process of weighing proposals may have taken somewhat longer than expected, she says, "This whole process has been exciting for me and out team."
She added, with perhaps a tad of understatement: "Now the hard work begins."