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Study: US Warehouses Present an Untapped Solar Energy-Generating Potential, Could Make Sector More Important for US Economy

Environment America Research and Policy Center, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, San Diego, Orange County
Photo by Ben den Engelsen on Unsplash

By The Registry Staff

Solar energy is gaining momentum in the United States as it continues to become cheaper and more efficient. The country has the potential to produce 78 times the amount of electricity it used in 2020 using only solar photovoltaic (PV) energy. One of the untapped solar energy opportunities in the US is the billions of square feet of warehouse rooftops across the country, according to a recent study by the Environment America Research and Policy Center.

Medium and large warehouses and distribution centers have flat, open, and sunny roofs that are perfect locations for solar panels. In the US alone, there are over 450,000 such buildings, with almost 16.4 billion cumulative square feet of rooftop space, equivalent to twice the area of Memphis, Tennessee. The number of warehouses in the country has been growing fast, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 626 million square feet of warehouse space under construction in the first half of 2022. The rooftops of warehouses built before 2019 have the potential to generate 185.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar electricity each year, enough to power almost 19.4 million average homes. States like California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Georgia have the largest warehouse solar generation potential, according to Johanna Neumann, senior director of Campaign for 100 Percent Renewable Energy with the Environment America Research and Policy Center, and Bryn Huxley-Reicher, a policy analyst with the Frontier Group, who authored the study.

Putting solar panels on the nation’s warehouses benefits everyone, including businesses, electricity customers, the grid, and the environment. Generating the full 185.6 TWh of clean solar power potential from America’s warehouses would reduce global warming pollution by over 112 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually, equal to taking over 24 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles off the road for a year. In this area, California, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, and Texas have the largest emissions reduction potential. 

On average, warehouses could produce 176 percent of their annual electricity use by fully building out their rooftop solar potential, allowing them to produce more electricity than they use and provide electricity to their communities.

Producing electricity on rooftops reduces energy losses that happen during electricity transmission and distribution and reduces the need for new utility-scale generation and transmission infrastructure, minimizing damage to fragile ecosystems. Solar power also makes the grid more resilient to outages and disruptions.

Businesses should consider setting ambitious goals to install solar generation capacity on their facilities and invest in the resources needed to meet those goals, the study stated. In addition, the authors would like to see these businesses use their political influence to advocate for positive policy change.

To accelerate the adoption of solar energy by American businesses, officials should implement solar-friendly policies. These policies should include adequately compensating businesses that generate solar electricity for the benefits they deliver to the environment, public health, and consumers through programs such as net metering, feed-in tariffs, and value-of-solar payments, according to the study. Financing tools like third-party and Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing of solar installations should also be enabled and enacted to remove financial barriers to solar adoption. Additionally, community solar power programs should be supported to allow businesses to go solar in partnership with their communities. Finally, officials should streamline and reduce the costs of solar permitting and interconnection processes to make going solar easier and faster.

The addition of solar panels on warehouse roofs to generate electricity could make industrial property owners more important to the overall US economy. By investing in solar energy, industrial property owners could reduce their energy expenses, increase their energy independence, and contribute to a more sustainable future. This shift towards renewable energy also positions these owners as leaders in the transition to a low-carbon economy, potentially attracting more investors who prioritize sustainable practices. As a result, industrial property owners who adopt solar energy could not only help the environment but also strengthen their businesses and make a valuable contribution to the US economy.