Solar Panels on Warehouse Roofs Could Power US Cities

A new report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group suggests that solar panels on warehouse roofs could provide enough clean electricity to power the most populous cities in every US state. According to the report, the country has over 450,000 warehouses and distribution centers that provide 16.4 billion square feet of rooftop space, which is twice the area of Memphis, Tennessee. Covering these rooftops with solar panels could generate 185.6 terawatt-hours of clean electricity annually, enough to power almost 19.4 million households for a year. 

The report notes that this could lead to a significant reduction in planet-heating emissions, as the solar potential of warehouse rooftops could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 112.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, which is equivalent to taking 24 million gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year or shutting down 30 coal-fired power plants. 

Producing electricity on rooftops also has the benefit of reducing energy losses that happen during electricity transmission and distribution, which made up 5.2% of gross electricity generation in 2020, according to the report. 

This report builds on a similar investigation by the same groups last year, which examined the unrealized solar potential of the country’s “big box” superstores. The new report recommends that businesses invest in solar generation capacity on their facilities, while all levels of government support solar energy adoption with policies such as net metering, feed-in tariffs, and/or value-of-solar payments. The report also suggests streamlining the process for and reducing the costs of solar permitting and interconnection. 

According to Alex Keally, senior vice president for Solect Energy, the key to realizing the solar potential of warehouse rooftops is for warehouse owners to connect with solar developers, and for utility companies to quickly connect rooftop solar systems to the grid. 

The report notes that California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Georgia are the five US states with the greatest potential for warehouse solar generation. However, realizing this potential will depend on state policymakers. Recent reporting on the Texas GOP shows that Republicans introduced a package of bills to the state Legislature intended to punish renewable energy and boost fossil fuels, including one that would limit the development of renewable energy in the state based on how much natural gas generation is also being built. 

Despite these challenges, the report suggests that the potential for solar energy on warehouse rooftops is too great to ignore. “We can power our cities with clean energy by tapping into the massive potential of America’s warehouse rooftops,” said Susan Rakov, chair of the Environment America Research & Policy Center. “The time has come for all levels of government and the private sector to work together to make this vision a reality.”

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