While initially hesitant in committing to renewable energy, many of the world’s biggest chain stores have become leading examples of any company’s potential to change its energy approach. As the number of individual solar electric systems currently installed in the U.S. reaches 24,000, nonresidential systems contributed a total of 3,600 new installations in the first half of 2012 alone. Utilities naturally continue to lead the charge in their overall number of installations; however, the future development of the solar industry and the potential for widespread adoption relies on the contribution of actors outside of the traditional utility market.

Green products and sustainability has become a major focus of advertising for most major retailers. As of late, however, major retail chains have also begun to see the benefits in transitioning to renewable energy in their operations. Such corporate giants as Walmart, Costco, and Ikea are leading this charge among the world’s major retailers. These retailers are contributing to the growth of the solar industry in their enthusiastic installation of solar energy systems at their retail outlets, with the flat roofs of the ‘big box’ stores serving as ideal sites for installing a large array of solar panels.

This trend among major chain retailers has only recently begun to gather steam as a result of the once prohibitively high costs of solar installations. However, recent years have seen the decline of these prices at an encouraging pace, which has consequently helped encourage big chain retailers to explore the cost-cutting potential of renewable energy. This trend towards commercial installations is also apparent in the European solar market, where recent industry surveys suggest that commercial installations will continue to drive the market for the foreseeable future.

In the European market, which is considerably more advanced than that of the United States boasting a total installed production capacity of 51,680 MW in 2011 as compared to the US’s 2012 figure of 5,161 MW and German (24,678 MW in 2011) and Italian (12,574 MW in 2011) installations alone amounting to well over 30,000 MW, commercial rooftop installations represent a very large share (well over 60% of installations in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium). The overwhelming prevalence of commercial installations in these European markets is a strong indication of the private sector’s significance in driving the transition towards renewable energy in the future.

While the private sector is undoubtedly a major contributor to the growth of the solar industry, the impact of public policy and guidance cannot be discounted. Industry analysts continue to note the significance of energy subsidy policies; such as those instituted by several European countries in response to the EU’s renewable energy targets for 2020. As such it is imperative that these two forces continue to work in conjunction with each other in building up the solar industries across the world in order to, one day, reach the shared goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy altogether.

Source: NY Times article

Read more: Solar Energy Industries Association report on commercial adoption

Solar Energy Industries Association solar industry overview for the second quarter of 2012

European Photovoltaic Industry Association’s market overview and outlook report

Industry analyst comments on the significance of EU energy policy at EUobserver.com