Solar power is a great investment for grocery stores to get a better handle on their electricity cost and business expenses predictability. There are financing options available to help pay for solar power arrays, in addition to a variety of federal, state, and local incentives meant to make solar more affordable to a wide number of businesses. There’s also net metering that allows solar arrays to sell power back to the electric grid for credit towards future energy needs.
Certain situations could potentially speed up the return on investment from solar panels or serve as some other value-add to a grocery store. Here are five scenarios to consider when thinking about how solar panels could make a difference.
1. Alleviate the pressure of grocery power needs and costs. Grocery stores have some of the biggest power needs for retail spaces of comparable sizes. They use around 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 50 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot per year — an average annual energy cost of $4 to $6 per square foot. Average sized 50,000-square-foot grocery stores can spend upwards of $250,000 per year on energy costs, with the majority of the expenditure going towards freezers, refrigerators and lighting. Smaller 2,000-square-foot convenient stores can spend up to $12,000 yearly on energy. When a business consumes this much power, not only are they charged industrial prices for electricity, they’re also penalized with demand charges. Putting a solar power array on the big flat roof of a typical store could potentially pay for all of the building’s energy needs. Though there would be up-front costs to installing the system, most arrays pay for themselves within five to 10 years, and after that the energy produced is free for as long as the system can be maintained.
2. Reliable backup battery power in an outage. Solar arrays with battery ensure reliable power to help keep vital equipment running for as long as possible in the event a utility provider experiences a power outage. Most grocery stores do not have backup generators because of the huge energy needs to keep refrigerators running. The stores that do have such equipment, the generators can be the size of semi-truck trailers, need a steady supply of fuel, and are used so rarely that the onset of an emergency is when it’s often discovered they are inoperable due to a maintenance issue. Solar batteries are more compact, convenient and could be an option for grocery stores - depending on their power needs - hopefully until the rest of the power comes back on. Because solar batteries are used regularly as part of the power cycle, issues with them can typically be discovered before an emergency occurs.
3. Serve customers left in the store when the power goes out. In the event of a short-term power outage, customers with carts full of products may not be willing to wait until the electricity comes back on to make their purchase. Having a solar power system with battery backup to power cash registers would allow the customers to be appropriately checked out, saving hundreds to potentially thousands in what otherwise would have been lost sales. Customers won’t have to abandon their carts and employees won’t waste time putting products back on the shelves. Additionally, in the event of an emergency, it can be vital to a community’s well-being to keep the lights on and registers running so customers can get the products they need to help their families.
4. Added appeal of solar to values-oriented brands. It’s probably no surprise that natural and organic Whole Foods was one of the first grocery chains to really dive in on powering stores with solar power. Solar panels can have a consumer appeal beyond the utility of keeping the lights on in a power failure. Such renewable energy efforts typically align with the personal values of customers that frequent food co-ops, natural grocery stores, and even bargain stores like Aldi and Lidl, both of which have committed to installing more solar panels on their rooftops.
5. Help serve links further down in the food supply chain. The motivations to help grocery stores make the switch to solar go beyond the walls of their building, it extends down along the food supply chain that is threatened by climate change. Grocery stores have huge power needs and those that primarily rely on fossil fuels generate tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases every year. This cumulative pollution and change in climate contributes to lower yields that mean lower food production. Changes in the atmosphere have also caused more major droughts and storms that kill livestock and destroy crops, limit food supplies, interrupt supply chains, increase food prices and exacerbate hunger issues. All of these could impact grocery stores, consumers and the community at large.
There’s never been better reasons or a better time to switch to solar power, but that’s changing in the future as the biggest cost-cutting incentive for solar is diminishing fast. In 2020, the federal tax credit was 26 percent, and that falls to 22 percent in 2021. By 2022, it’s all the way down to just 10 percent for commercial solar installations.
Act now to make use of all that empty space on top of the typical grocery store. Contact AllEnergySolar.com to get started with taking your grocery store solar.
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